By Christopher B. Daly
I heard a fantastic story yesterday on the “This American Life” radio program. It was about the business/ethics/professional issues raised for the field of journalism by a new-ish company called Journatic. The story, by producer Sarah Koenig had the brilliant memorable headline “Forgive us our press passes.” It explained the creepy side of how out-sourcing has arrived, almost completely under the radar, in the American newspaper business. Turns out, lots of the routine fillers (school lunches, ordinary obits, etc.) that fill up small-town and suburban newspapers are actually “written” by worker bees in the Philippines, Eastern Europe, and Africa. They toil away for peanuts, then transmit their “stories” to editors in the states, who get paid next to nothing to “edit” those “stories,” even though the editor could be more than 1,000 miles away from the community being “covered” in this way. The whole operation seems to make a mockery of the idea of “hyper-local” news.
To her credit, Koenig really pursues the issue in great depth and nuance.
Also, a note to journalism teachers: you should share this piece with your classes. It is really a two-fer: it tells some important truths about the direction the news business is heading in, and it is a model of how to use audio to tell a complicated story. It is must-listen journalism.