The Journatic scandal and the future of community media
by Nickey Robare, SPNN Online Communications Coordinator
I spend a lot of time thinking about community media and why it's important. The Journatic scandal has, for me, really highlighted the problem with corporate media.
If you didn't catch it, here's what's wrong with Journatic. Journatic is a company that creates "hyper local" news content for newspapers all over the US. But they don't hire, say, young reporters within the communities they are cover who are trying to get their careers off the ground. Instead Journatic functions much like many multinational corporations who are trying to build their products for the lowest cost possible- they outsource production to a developing nation. As reported in June by This American Life, Journatic hires writers in the Philippines to create short articles based on things like little league scores. They take the scores, write a generic story, and then send the article to an editor in the US (however, this editor is still not in the community being covered). Many newspapers contract with Journatic to produce this content, and it's especially appealing to use these services to cover small towns where it is not considered profitable to place an actual, local reporter.
What Journatic does was not secret, but the This American Life story shined a spotlight on what many feel is a dishonest manner of covering news. Perhaps the most unseemly part of Journatic's operations, and the feature that has shaken many newspapers the most, was the use of fake, Western-style names, instead of the real names of the Filipino writers. This is both offensive to the writers who are doing the work and not receiving credit, and to the readers who do not know who the real writers are. Since that came to light, many newspapers have dissolved their contracts with Journatic.
Unfortunately, the reason a company like this can exist is because, oftentimes, covering local news just isn't profitable. School board meetings, community council debates, high school basketball games- these are all important community events. Many citizens are interested in coverage of these events and issues, but only a small percentage might have the time to attend. We know community members do value this information, even if paying a full-time reporter isn't feasible for many papers. Thus, Journatic found a way to profit off this information without requiring attendance.
Community media offers a different means of sharing these events and information. Community members can document and disseminate information themselves, rather than relying on a profit-driven entity. The people who are most invested in the story can tell the story themselves. Instead of selling our eyes to companies that are just trying to get pageviews on anti-belly fat banner ads, we can support community organizations. By volunteering, donating, or simply being emotionally invested in community media centers, we can create strong, independent, not-for-profit sources of vital information