The Media Oxpecker: How to Outsource Journalistic ‘Scut Work’

Every week we round up industry news you may have missed while you were busy getting harassed by a crappy lawyer.

[Ed.’s Note: Effective today, The Media Oxpecker will be typed offshore to reduce costs. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of our previous paragraph assembler.]

  • “Really what they’re doing is assembling and copy-editing a bunch of facts, right?” explained Journatic founder Brian Timpone in the most recent episode of This American Life, which reported that his company uses workers in the Philippines to write local news blurbs bylined with fake names such as “Ginny Cox” and “Jay Brownstone.”

    The fake bylines appeared in major dailies in Chicago, Houston, and San Francisco. This American Life producer Sarah Koenig reports:

    “[Timpone] insisted that Filipinos were not writing stories, they were more like, ‘typing information,’ and assembling it in paragraph form, which sounds to me a lot like writing. Brian Timpone insisted this was a semantic confusion I was having.

    Anna Tarkov explains the semantic confusion:

    What Journatic’s taking off newspapers’ plates is what [Michael] Miner calls journalistic “scut work” — scanning police blotters, tracking high-school sports results, pulling permits. As newspapers have slashed staffs and seen profits disappear, they’ve struggled to prioritize paying for this kind of elbow-grease coverage.

    Timpone maintains it’s not important to have reporters stationed in the communities they cover to perform such tasks. “Being based in the community is not beneficial,” he told Poynter in April.

    Responds Dan Kennedy:

    If the Chicago Tribune uses Journatic stories in its hyperlocal coverage in order to suck advertising money out of pizza shops, funeral homes and other businesses, it becomes that much harder for would-be entrepreneurs to start their own local news sites.

    Mandy Jenkins suggests a “Buy Local” campaign for newsrooms:

    For local journalists, there is no better time to show our readers that we are them. We live in the same neighborhoods. We shop at the same grocery stores. We attend the same local festivals and root for the same football teams. Our kids attend the same schools. We may have even gone to high school together.

    But Mathew Ingram says the uncomfortable truth is that outsourcing and automation are part of the future of journalism:

    Is faking hyper-local content the answer? Probably not. But it’s also true that most newspapers can’t afford to continue producing a lot of the kind of content that Journatic generated … At the end of the day, centralized and partly-automated production of that sort of generic content is likely a reality for newspapers — or even fully-automated production, from services like Narrative Science, which generates sports stories, business stories and an increasing range of other content using algorithms instead of human reporters and editors. It may not be the kind of future that all journalists or news consumers would like to see, but it is probably the future nevertheless.

  • Mobile is where the growth is, says one venture capitalist.

  • Cory Doctorow asks: Is downloadable music ‘the internet’s original sin?’

    Back at the beginning of the file-sharing wars, during the delirious 18 months during which Napster went from zero to 52 million users, much of the focus was on the novelty of getting music for free – but there was also a lot of buzz about getting some of that music at all. Prior to Napster, more than 80 percent of recorded music wasn’t for sale (except as uncatalogued, obscure used LPs). The record industry had always enjoyed both the savings from not having to warehouse and manage all those physical products, and the increased profits that arose from limiting choice. Napster, the original long tail marketplace, showed that audiences hungered for abundance of choice … Twelve years later, abundance is the signal characteristic of all media.

  • University news outlets explore journalism training as a revenue source.

  • Will Gawker’s new comment system help or hurt its young writers?

    “The goal is to erase the traditional distinctions between writers, editors, readers, subject, and sources,” [Gawker Media publisher Nick] Denton told CJR in a Gchat. At the same time, he insisted, “our goal is to help our writers each achieve greater influence and reach with the same amount of work.”

  • How a digital divide developed in New Orleans.

  • An Ad Age survey found that marketers and ad agency execs love Facebook, but have no idea if their ads work. In a separate study, 33Across found that marketers and ad agency execs believe Facebook is less important than the “rest of the web.”

  • General Motors, which pulled its Facbook ads in May, is now reconsidering.

  • Mobile ad spending increased by 150 percent in the first quarter of 2012, grabbing a market share of 9.8 percent of all advertising.

  • Increased app usage by consumers will help in-app advertising grow to $7 billion worldwide by 2015.

  • Here are 6 email marketing tools for hyperlocal publishers.

  • A study by Rice University says the daily deal sector is “strong … with no signs of slowing down.”

  • And finally, are consumers getting QR code fatigue?

    “About 80 percent of the time, I’m disappointed that I scanned it,” [Michael] Hellesen says. “Mostly it’s just curiosity at this point. I’m not actually expecting anything useful.”

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