Now They're Even Outsourcing "Local" Journalism -- Reporters Living in the Philippines Are Beat Reporters for Chicago and Houston Papers
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Oh, and payment? For an 800- to 1,000-word news story, I'd get $24. For a 500-word story, $12. The Q&A would net me a measly $10.
Also, would I be interested in taking over the beat permanently?
The answer was no, and this phone call was the last straw for me. How could news stories with the Chicago Tribune's banner on them follow journalistic practices that would make a high-school newspaper reporter blush?
That's when I decided to pitch a story to This American Life. I'd just heard Mike Daisey's story on the NPR show and saw the positive impact it was having on Apple's questionable practices in China – even if that turned out to be full of fabrications and exaggeration.
The response to Sarah Koenig's excellent story on Journatic on This American Life called "Forgive Us Our Press Passes" has been dramatic. In the week since the story has aired, many of Journatic's clients conducted internal investigations and several of them found fake bylines. Meanwhile, GateHouse media and the Chicago Sun-Times both announced they were ending their contracts with Journatic. Free Press created a petition protesting the outsourcing of local news that's been signed by tens of thousands of people.
With regard to my job, I assumed weeks ago that Journatic would fire me. I figured that once they learned I had gone to This American Life and given Koenig access to the company's databases and workspaces, and walked her through how to find things she was looking for, including forwarding to her emails from Journatic bosses and other emails of about 30 of the writers/workers from the Philippines, they would terminate my employment.
Journatic CEO Brian Timpone never once contacted me, even though I told him through another staffer that he was welcome to call me. Instead, I got a brief phone call on Tuesday from another Journatic exec, who said they wanted me to stay on as a copyeditor. The next day, I emailed to say I was resigning on Friday.
My primary goal in "blowing the whistle" wasn't to punish Journatic or damage their business. It was to motivate NPR listeners to care more about the state of newspapers – even if that would cost me a $2,000-a-month job. Maybe, the public could be convinced not only to hold newspapers to a higher standard, but also to invest more money in them. Quality journalism doesn't come cheap.
Do I expect that to happen? Probably not, but I hoped it would. The fact that change seems to be happening makes my small sacrifice more than worthwhile.
Ryan Smith is a Chicago-based freelance journalist and a regular contributor to Chicago Tribune's RedEye, The Onion AV Club's Gameological Society, and RedBullUSA.com.