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Journatic Scandal: Chicago Tribune Suspends Use Of Provider After Fabrications, Plagiarism

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CHICAGO TRIBUNE
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CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Tribune has suspended its use of local news provider Journatic after discovering plagiarized and fabricated material in one of its stories, an announcement that was quickly followed by the resignation Saturday of one of the news service's senior staffers.

Journatic's head of editorial, Mike Fourcher, said on his blog that he had resigned because of disagreements with senior staff over "ethical and management issues."

The Chicago-based company has come under scrutiny since the public radio program "This American Life" reported two weeks ago that Journatic was using low-paid writers overseas to produce items under fake bylines that were published in print and online by several major U.S. newspapers.

The issue has sparked discussion throughout the news industry, which is struggling to cut costs while still trying to serve local markets, sometimes by outsourcing specialized content.

Journatic, which began operations in 2006, had produced content for the Tribune's suburban TribLocal publications — 90 town websites and 22 weekly print editions.

The newspaper said in its Saturday edition that one of those stories, published earlier in the week in the Deerfield TribLocal, contained a quote lifted from a June 7 story in another local publication. It also included a fabricated quote that used information from an item on Patch.com, another website providing hyperlocal content.

"We deeply regret this incident and apologize to Chicago Tribune and its readers," said Journatic founder and Chief Executive Brian Timpone in a statement published by the Tribune.

Journatic did not return a phone message seeking comment Saturday.

Dozens of media outlets use Journatic content. The Chicago Tribune's parent, Tribune Co., invested an undisclosed sum in the company in April.

The newspaper's senior vice president and editor, Gerould Kern, said in a staff memo that an internal investigation begun after the revelation of false bylines is not complete.

"These are the most egregious sins in journalism," Kern said. "We do not tolerate these acts at the Chicago Tribune under any circumstances, whether from a staff member or an outside supplier like Journatic."

While the suspension was described as indefinite, Chicago Tribune Media Group President Vince Casanova told the newspaper it would work with Journatic in the interim to improve standards.

"We're not writing them off," he said.

In his blog post, Fourcher, who was also Journatic's production manager, said he had tried to address problems at the company in discussions with its founders but was thwarted. He said one of the company's shortfalls was a business model that favors quantity over quality.

"Inevitably, as you distribute reporting work to an increasingly remote team, you break traditional bonds of trust between writers and editors until they are implicitly discouraged from doing high-quality work for the sake of increasing production efficiency and making more money," Fourcher said.

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