2012.07.11 Long-distance reportage

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

There are three stories in this week’s Observer from the June 27 village council meeting at Fayette. 

I was not at that meeting. Oddly enough, I had three meetings to cover on a Wednesday night—the night that not so long ago nobody would schedule a meeting—and I managed to be in only one place that evening. 

And so, the reporting of those three Fayette council reports were outsourced to the Philippines.

You don’t believe me? All right, you know better. Karen King from Fayette recorded the meeting for me and later gave me her recorder, the agenda and a couple of other documents.

However, I could have gone through the Philippines, or Eastern Europe or Africa or Brazil. That’s what a company named Journatic does. Many stories published in some large daily papers in the U.S. are written by someone thousands of miles away.

The story of Journatic (as is journalism automatic) was recently told on the weekly radio program “This American Life.” An American Journatic reporter, Ryan Smith, recounted a recent assignment to write a story about a Student of the Week at a high school in Houston.

He called the school and spoke with the principal for information. The principal invited him to stop in his office, figuring it was just a local reporter from the Houston Chronicle who would drive over in his beat-up car for a conversation. Smith managed to get the job done on the telephone. After all, he was calling from Chicago. He’s never set foot in Texas. True, the story was for the Chronicle, but Smith doesn’t work for the paper.

Papers are working hard to keep their readers and one approach is called hyperlocal news. It’s sort of what weekly newspapers do all the time. Honor rolls, students of the month, garden club news, school menus, etc.

Nobody goes to journalism school to spend their time writing up garden club reports, so that’s where Journatic comes in. Pay someone like Smith 12 bucks to do the job.

Smith didn’t know anything about Journatic when he applied for the job. He sent his résumé and was instantly hired. No interview, no phone call. In fact, he’s never actually spoken to his boss. Everything is handled via e-mail. His boss was working from St. Louis; now he’s in Brazil.

Often Smith’s job wasn’t to collect information. Instead, he edited someone else’s story, such as someone from the Philippines.

When Smith complained about the sloppy copy he was receiving, his boss told him to cut the writers a little slack since English wasn’t their native language.

Journatic knows it’s cheaper to pay someone in the Philippines 35 cents a story to “assemble facts” than to pay a reporter from the Chicago Tribune. Journatic claims its foreign staff doesn’t actually write the stories. They’re entering data, writing a first draft for Smith and others to clean up. The Tribune says that Filipino freelancers “cull and format information for stories.” 

The big deal that arose from the radio show is that Smith told his interviewer that fake names are sometimes attached to stories. The Filipino name isn’t used and Smith’s name isn’t used. It’s just some alias that makes matters simpler when lawyers call about the stories written. The fake names started appearing on stories about real estate transfers after complaints arose. Now there will be no names at all.

TribLocal is the name of the Tribune’s hyperlocal website and a lot of TribLocal employees lost their jobs when Journatic came in.

The owner of Journatic says his service frees up time for the real reporters to do good reporting—if they still have a job—so they don’t have to mess with dull matters such as a city budget. Smith spent about three hours on his city budget story for a Chicago suburb and earned about $4 an hour.

“We’re doing God’s work,” said Brian Timpone, CEO of Journatic, whatever that’s supposed to mean.

I wonder what Karen King thinks about the Philippines. She could live cheaper, I could pay her less. And she could write those council stories without the bother of having to bicycle downtown to the village office.

  • Front.train
    WRECKAGE—Morenci Fire Department member Taylor Schisler walks past the smoking wreckage of a semi-truck tractor on the north side of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad tracks on Ranger Highway. The truck trailer was on the south side of the tracks
  • Front.sculpta
    SCULPTORS—Morenci third grade students Emersyn Thompson (left) and Marissa Lawrence turn spaghetti sticks into mini sculptures Friday during a class visit to Stair District Library. All Morenci Elementary School classes recently visited the library to experience the creative construction toys purchased through the “Sculptamania!” project, funded by a Disney Curiosity Creates grant. The grant is administered by the Association for Library Services to Children, a division of the American Library Association.
  • Funcolor
    LEONIE LEAHY was one of three local hair stylists who volunteered time Friday at the Morenci PTO Fun Night. Her customer, Aubrey Sandusky, looks up at her mother while her hair takes on a perfect match to her outfit. Leahy said she had a great time at the event—nothing but happy clients.
  • Shadow.salon
    LEARNING THE ROPES—Kristy Castillo (left), co-owner of Mane Street Salon, works with Kendal Kuhn as Sierra Orner takes a phone call. The two Morenci Area High School juniors spent Friday at the salon as part of a job shadowing experience.
  • KayseInField
    IN THE FIELD—2004 Morenci graduate Kayse Onweller works in a test plot of wheat in Texas. She’s part of Bayer CropScience’s North American wheat breeding program based in Nebraska, where she completed post-graduate work in plant breeding and genetics.
  • Front.winner
    REFEREE Camden Miller raises the hand of Morenci Jr. Dawgs wrestler Ryder Ryan as his opponent leaves the mat in disappointment. Morenci’s youth wrestling program served as host for a tournament Saturday morning to raise money for the club. Additional photos are on the back page.
  • Front.bank.2
    SHERWOOD STATE Bank opened its Fayette office at a grand opening Friday morning, drawing a large crowd to view the renovated building. Above, Burt Blue talks to teller Cindy Funk, while his wife, Jackie, looks around the new office. The Blues missed the opening and took a quick tour on Tuesday. Few traces remain of the former grocery store and theater, however, part of the original brick wall still shows in the hallway leading to the back of the building. The drive-through window should be ready for customers later in the month.
  • Front.make.three
    FROM THE LEFT, Landon Wilkins, Ryan White and Logan Blaker try out their artistic skills Saturday afternoon at the Morenci PTO’s first Date to Create event. More than 50 people showed up to create decorated planks of wood to hang from rope. The event served as a fund-raiser for miscellaneous PTO projects. Additional photos are on the back of this week’s Observer.

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