In the June 29 episode of This American Life, Journatic founder Brian Timpone posits that his sweatshop media company, which farms out “local reporting” to the Philippines and Eastern Europe, is saving journalism. He’s so far off base that I almost feel sorry for the guy. Then I remember he’s the Benedict Arnold of media.
A former reporter, Timpone knows the rigors of true, gum-shoe journalism. No writer goes into the biz for the money, but paying a reporter $12 for a story? Or, as it reportedly plays out for those scribes overseas, 40 cents? You get what you pay for, and I wouldn’t wipe my bum with a 40-cent roll of toilet paper.
In Timpone’s finest moment on the broadcast, and there are many to choose from, he challenges reporter Sarah Koenig to produce a “better solution” than Journatic for the declining newspaper industry.
“At the end of the day, what’s a better solution?” asks Timpone, in full school-yard bully mode. “Do you have one? If you have a better idea, I’m all ears.”
The fact that no one has a neat little solution to combat print publications’ landslide losses of subscribers and advertisers is not a point in Journatic’s favor. It’s a clear strike against it.
If the problem is that readers and advertisers see newspapers as increasingly less important in their lives, then giving them a poorer quality product will decrease interest ever still.
Let’s take a little stroll down hypothetical lane, shall we? Imagine instead of trying to bring local coverage to towns with no newspapers, Timpone was trying to bring medical care to places with no doctors. He can’t afford trained professionals, so he rounds up a crack team of people hungry for work, arms them with a medical dictionary and a couple textbooks, and sets up a call-in doctor’s office. The townspeople are getting some medical treatment, but whether more harm than good is being done is anybody’s guess. While journalism isn’t always a matter of life and death, giving people wrong information is toxic.
By creating an inferior product and passing it off as journalism in a shocking array of major papers, Timpone is perpetrating the greatest fraud in modern media. Hence, the fake bylines. It’s not enough for Timpone to pay his writers pennies. He also denies them credit. Now outed and rightfully shamed for this practice, Timpone has promised to do away with pen names like “Jimmy Finkle” and “Jeanie Cox.” But he still won’t use the name of an overseas writer, opting instead to go with generic taglines.
Now, I can see Timpone’s a clever guy, and, according to the bio on his website, one with four little mouths to feed. But I can’t sympathize with anyone who takes jobs away from journalists and produces an inferior product in their places.
You think you’re saving journalism? You’re manning the guillotine.