This morning I submitted my resignation as Production Manager and head of editorial at Journatic, LLC. I did so because the founders and I fundamentally disagree about ethical and management issues as they relate to a successful news business.
After fourteen years of the winner-loser pace of political campaigns, I started up a pair of news sites in my Chicago neighborhood that still operate today. I sold ads, wrote articles and slapped backs at chamber of commerce luncheons. Eventually I was able to hire writers. We wrote articles that influenced a pair of elections, helped shut down crooked non-profits and covered crime that was otherwise going unreported.
Prior to Journatic I founded a Chicago politics wiki, created a subscription-based political news service with the Chicago News Cooperative, created and obtained funding for an ad network, and launched a community arts and entertainment site.
I know how hard it is to make the business and journalism of community news work. Because of my experience, I was tremendously excited nearly ten weeks ago to become a part of Journatic’s plan to bring community news to an even bigger audience.
I would say Journatic’s core premise is sound: most data and raw information can be managed much more efficiently outside the traditional newsroom; and, in order for major market community news to be commercially viable, it needs be conducted on a broader scale than ever before.
The company’s model falters, however, when it attempts to treat community news reporting the same way as data reporting. 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.
As head of editorial production, I immediately attempted to address these editorial and related problems with the founders and others. Soon after my start, I suggested changes to company policy and made numerous recommendations and attempts to refine how Journatic collects and reports news. Every attempt either fell on deaf ears or was thwarted by demands for the creation of more and more performance metrics.
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.
In two separate meetings with the founders just yesterday, I pushed for the company to consider writing and copy editing quality when determining pay and promotion. Both founders responded with new plans to focus on production efficiency metrics while ignoring methods to promote work quality and pride.
Please know there are many talented and committed journalists, designers and programmers on the company payroll. They have striven to build a great news organization.
The most successful businesses have always started with a high quality product and then sought ways to repeatedly deliver quality. Such is not the case at Journatic, which is why I resigned earlier today.