Journatic head of editorial resigns
BY TINA SFONDELES AND KIM JANSSEN Staff reporters July 14, 2012 10:48AM
Former head of Journatic editorial Mike Fourcher Source: Twitter account
Updated: August 23, 2012 9:56AM
The head of editorial for news provider Journatic announced his resignation Saturday, a day after the Chicago Tribune announced it is stopping the use of the company which plagiarized and fabricated elements of a story published last week.
But Journatic says Mike Fourcher jumped before he was pushed — saying he had to carry the can for the plagiarism scandal.
On his blog, Fourcher wrote that Journatic’s business model sacrifices quality for quantity in interests of profits. Fourcher said he warned his bosses about potential problems, to no avail.
Journatic broke the 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 wrote.
When he attempted to warn company founders, “every attempt either fell on deaf ears or was thwarted by demands for the creation of more and more performance metrics,” Fourcher wrote.
“All consequential decision-making is closely guarded by the founders with little or no consulting of the senior editorial staff, whom together have close to 100 years of news experience,” he added.
Earlier this year, the Chicago Tribune hired Journatic to provide articles for its TribLocal suburban editions and laid off 11 TribLocal reporters. And in April, the Tribune’s parent company, Tribune Co., announced an undisclosed investment in Journatic.
But on Friday night, the Tribune said it will stop using Journatic indefinitely after discovering a sports story published in last week’s Deerfield TribLocal contained elements that were “plagiarized and fabricated.”
The unraveling of contributor Luke Campbell’s work came when the father of a high school baseball player mentioned in the story called to say no one at TribLocal or Journatic had spoken to his son, Fourcher said in an interview. Editorial staff members soon realized the quotes were from another story.
“I called Luke Campbell and asked him, ‘Do you have any notes or any records of calls to prove that you contacted him?’” Fourcher said.
Campbell’s response: “‘I delete my notes every week.’”
Fourcher said he didn’t find that credible and informed Campbell that he wouldn’t be hired again.
The Tribune’s investigation of Journatic’s work for the newspaper is continuing.
Fourcher said he had not seen any “precursors to plagiarism” but routinely grappled with “poorly written work.”
He said Journatic’s premise that most data and raw information can be managed outside a newsroom was “sound,” but added that the company’s model faltered by treating community news the same way as data reporting. He said he resigned “because the founders and I fundamentally disagree about ethical and management issues as they relate to a successful news business.”
But later Saturday, Journatic spokeswoman Kendra Thornton released a statement calling Fourcher’s account of his departure “entirely inaccurate.”
“When we discovered that plagiarism had occurred this week under Mike’s watch we made a decision to terminate him,” Thornton said. “He resigned before we could do so.”
Thornton added that the company deeply regrets the plagiarism, apologizes to Tribune readers, and is reviewing its editorial policies.
Fourcher said he “laughed for five minutes,” when he heard that statement. “It’s an organization without credibility,” he said.
He forwarded an email that Journatic CEO and Founder Brian Timpone sent him in response to his resignation, which does not appear to show any intention to fire Fourcher.
Journatic first came under fire late last month when the “This American Life” radio show alleged the news service had outsourced news stories to overseas writers then falsified their bylines when they appeared on news sites in this country.
Sun-Times Media cut its own ties with Journatic’s Blockshopper service earlier this summer.
Timpone wasn’t keen to discuss the latest criticisms of his business on Saturday afternoon, when the Sun-Times found him outside his home on a leafy River Forest block, leaning into a pal’s Maserati.
“Don’t you know your CEO is an investor with us?” Timpone asked a reporter, referring to Sun-Times CEO Tim Knight. Knight said in a statement Saturday: “I received back my entire investment in Journatic when Tribune Co. completed its deal with the company. My remaining holdings amount to about 1% of the company.”
Asked how he could restore Journatic’s damaged credibility, Timpone said, “There’s so much going on right now, I’ll have to decline...one day I’ll sit down and tell you the whole story.”
Offered a chance to tell a reporter the whole story there and then, Timpone said, “You’re not here for the real story — come on, you know you’re not.”