Hyperlocal many not be what the big city newspaper’s business is, but it’s one important site where beginning reporters first learn their craft. How can the academy and industry work together to improve hyperlocal reporting and journalism education? Some questions for discussion below.
What does the New York Times’ retreat say for student-professional partnerships?
Nieman Reports identified five key lessons from the Times’ hyperlocal project, which teamed newspaper staffers with community contributors including New York University students working under the guidance of faculty mentors. The East Village Local is old-school shoe-leather reporting with a multimedia flourish. It’s labor-intensive stuff all the way around, and not very profitable.According to the article, the Times’ brass concluded that: while professional journalists’ involvement is important for quality control, “It doesn’t pay big media companies to pay their staffs to go hyperlocal.”
“What we have been trying to figure out at the Times — and I think what lots of people in this space have been trying to figure out — is how do you prompt communities, and can you prompt communities into the act of covering themselves in a meaningful way?” - Adrienne LaFrance, “Five Things the New York TImes Learned…
What I’m hoping we’ll see soon are articles from the journalism professors and students involved in the East Village Local and other pro-am hyperlocal partnerships. Technology makes new models of news reporting possible, even necessary. The question is, which models provide the best journalism, the most sustainable business mode
Journatic: Bringing economies of scale to the newsroom at the expense of journalism, ethics
Understandably, news organizations are like any business in that they want to produce as much salable content as possible at minimal cost – and that means minimal personnel expenditures. But that logic has led to the gutting of newsrooms and a retrenchment from the kind of reporting that relies on getting to know the members of a community and its issues.
Enter Journatic, a company that bills itself as a “provider of extensive hyperlocal content.” According to its website, Journatic has an “efficient,” ”data-driven content creation model” that relies a distributed network of Filipino freelancers and low-paid American editors. In an April, 2012 article, Journatic CEO Brian Timpone reportedly told Chicago Reader reporter Mike Miner that the Filipino contributors are mostly data researchers, not reporters, but Miner cites a Journatic Philippine newspaper ad calling for writers who could turn out 250 events “stories” weekly for $.35 to $.40 each. According to This American Life’s interview with Journatic staffer Ryan Smith, he spends much of his time editing the Filipino contributors’ stories based on information extracted from databases such as legacy.com.
The Filipino writers’ work work is often published under fake English bylines. The Tribune Company, which is a major Journatic partner, now says it will investigate the use of fake bylines in content that Journatic produced for the Chicago Tribune. It’s also alleged that Journatic reporters tell sources that they are part of their clients’ news staffs, giving the false impression that they are local journalists.
Smith says his pay is $10/hour without benefits. (According to Poynter.org, the company started paying benefits to full-time employees June 1 of this year.)
The Journatic story really fired me up, and I hope it’ll fire up local newsrooms who might someday have to compete with this sort of outsourced news operation. We need to show our readers that we live here, too.
Listening to “This American Life” and just amazed about one of the stories. It seems there’s a company called Journatics which handles outsourcing of hyper-local stories for some newspapers, like Newsday. They hire people to write local stories–people in the Philippines and elsewhere, (including some Americans who will work cheaply). So the local news is being written using cheap labor, while the local journalists are being fired. I guess even newspapers are exporting jobs! I wonder if that’s going to happen with the Tiimes-Picayune?
The Tribune is NOT amused by This American Life report on Journatic, that revealed fake bylines appearing in Tribune local edition:http://jimromenesko.com/2012/07/02/chicago-tribune-to-investigate-journatics-use-of-fake-bylines/
Journatic CEO Brian Timpone defends his business model by saying it’s cost effective. The Chicago Reader’s Mike Miner quotes Timpone making his case to This American Life:
“We have a solution that helps solve the problem. Cutting staff is not the way to growth, but empowering a reporter with people in the Philippines—that’s a really smart thing to do. The criticism’s fine, but at the end of the day, what’s a better solution? Do you have one? Tell me if you have a better idea. I’m all ears.”
Here’s one for you, Mr. Timpone.
It strikes me that Journatic would not have had to resort to anonymous or pseudonymous bylines if it had brought college journalism classes in on tasks like obituary writing, where the reporting is usually done over the phone. From a journalism education perspective, there is a good conversation to be had about the economics of reporting, and the trade-off that occurs when you have a distributed news force.
While I’m no fan of having students work for professional news sites for paltry sums - or worse, yet, for free, I understand the reality of the contemporary news economy, and course credit would at least be some compensation. Journatic would get reporters who can write in standard English. Students could get exposure to their content management system, and research could be done on more efficient ways to mine and organize their data.
Of course, all of this is assuming that Journatic comes clean and stope with the stupid fake bylines. Now that the cat is out of the bag, com why can’t they identify themselves in the same way that a wire service might. Also, requiring student reporters to lie about who they are is a non-starter – why not just say, “I’m a contractor for the Houston Chronicle” or whatever the paper is?)
@richards1000 re: Journatic, you heard of Narrative Science (algorithms write news articles)? Here’s a post on them http://ow.ly/bWSmY
Narrative science: The product of a journalism and computer science classroom collaboration
One model of hyperlocal journalism seems to be prospering – and that scares a lot of journalists. Narrative Science is a company that uses artificial intelligence to program robots that generate news stories from spreadsheet data. The AI is based on input from journalists. Their hyperlocal content draws on information such as parents’ youtube videos of their kids’ Little League games. They also produce basic financial stories for outlets such and Forbes. What is most interesting about this from my perspective is that it came about as a result of a class project by graduate journalism and computer science students at Northwestern University’s Medill school.
Like anyone else, I have my qualms about the prospect of a robot one day cranking out Pulitzer-worthy scoops. But rather than shrink in horror, I think we need to examine these kinds of models more closely and think about ways of improving upon it and building upon it. For example, here are some areas of human and tech collaboration that would be helpful in meeting the information needs of underserved communities:
1. Making environmental data intelligible and accessible to local communities
2. Improving science and health reporting.
3. Using robotics to realize the potential of news gaming
There are other interesting models for hyperlocal reporting – Philadelphia’s Newsworks is a great example. Spearheaded by public radio station WHYY and supported by foundations, Newsworks relies on contributions from the University of Pennsylvania and LaSalle College, among others. But that is another conversation.