Can the media cover themselves?

David Carr, the media reporter for the nytimes, wrote an article this week about the state of journalism and its ability to cover itself. Carr points out the absence of coverage of the phone hacking scandal in Britain, which appeared in the News Of The World, a former publication by the scoundrel of media himself, Rupert Murdoch. Carr correctly points out that the events surrounding the scandal are worthy of a plot in a book by a mainstream novel writer. What Carr lacks in his analysis, however, is any solutions or analysis of the context of the problem of the media. After rumbling around for a few quotes by those working within journalism (and therefore beholden to the system surrounding it), Carr ends with “If journalism is losing its way, that’s a story that needs to be told over and over.” Great! Let’s tell the story of how bad journalism is getting. As if that hasn’t been the story of media during the past decade. If people covering the media can’t even provide a possible answer to the problem, what good is it? There will be no change in the information structures of our society if there are no solutions.

Journatic update

Update on the Journatic scandal: The Chicago Tribune invested in and utilized the services of Journatic. This past week 85 Tribune staffers sent a letter to the top-dog editor G. Kern. Staffers cited “deep frustration and concern in the newsroom over the Tribune’s continued relationship with Journatic.” Considering Journatic’s scandalous record on content and bylines, this is no surprise. If the Tribune works with a corrupt company, what does that say about the Tribune itself? (It’s certainly hard to defend the entirety of its content, not that this was easier beforehand.) In fact, much of the problems at Journatic are direct violations of Tribune policy set for its own reporters. Kern eventually replied to the criticism by guaranteeing that they are “committed to completing our review and making the right decisions.” Now all we have to wait for is what the Tribune means by “right decision”–“right” for the Tribune’s owners and top management, or “right” for journalism?

Journatic: What’s the big surprise?

Recently a small corner of the media world (mostly the internet) has been occupied by a news story about a company named Journatic. For many who take journalism seriously, it has reached the level of a small scandal. Journatic is a company that provides “hyperlocal” news stories to newspapers and news services across the country. Wages are extremely low both in the United States and abroad. In order to keep costs low, Journatic’s business model utilizes cheap labor abroad in order to “assemble” information into a story that can be sold as local U.S. news. Awareness of Journatic broke through with after the airing of a recent This American Life episode in which a former Journatic employee Ryan Smith divulged details on its business practices.

Journatic contracts with workers in the Philippines who troll the internet for a particular community, for example for newsworthy events in Houston or Chicago. After writing a piece, material produced by Filipino workers is sent to U.S.-based editors who proof the story.  The finished product does not contain the actual byline of the person who wrote the story in the Philippines. Instead, after writing the story, Filipino workers have a choice of which name they would like to use for the story. These names include Carrie Reed, Amy Anderson, and Jay Brownstown, according to This American Life. Apparently a Filipino-sounding name isn’t convincing enough for the papers where Journatic content appears.

Smith, the former Journatic employee who divulged his former employer’s secrets, also told This American Life that he was tasked with writing a local piece in the Houston Chronicle. Smith lives in Chicago, and he’s never been to Houston. However, in order to complete the story, Smith called the principal of a Houston high school and was put in the awkward situation of explaining that he was writing for the Chronicle while sitting in Chicago. Other Journatic employees were doing countless other stories like this across the country while potentially never having visited the community they were writing about. This is occurring at the same time that local reporters across the country are losing their jobs at their local papers because publishers are looking for ways to cut costs.

As expected, media outlets across the country reported on the bizarre and slightly scandalous nature of the Journatic phenomenon. Yet how surprised should we be? Newspapers have been cutting costs and losing revenue for several years now. Part of problem is adjusting to a new sustainable model in the Internet Age. At the same time, however, the U.S. (and world economy) is drifting further and further toward a system that is obsessed with the profit motive over quality goods or services (or information in this case). Journatic, which is a combination of “journalism” and “automatic” is the latest assault on quality media. Who knows, perhaps journalism of the future will take a completely automated quality and be wholly produced by magical algorithms? I can only hope we wake up before then.

Introduction

Hello, internet. I’m here to tell the sorry story of the state of U.S. media. The story is big, and it is long. But I’ll aim for the most important parts. I suppose the only fear I have is of the writing process. Gathering and absorbing information is my passion, yet I am terrified of sharing information with an audience if I have to put it on screen for an audience to see. Since information and knowledge is my passion, I am particularly dismayed at the state of American journalism. I choose to comment on the American (aka U.S.) example because (1) I hail from the United States, and (2) it’s much easier to define a particular area, as media most certainly is a product that moves easily beyond borders.

As for this blog, I’ve decided to simply start posting and add commentary. As I progress, I shall better define what I seek to address and how I shall do it.