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Chron caught up in fake byline controversy

The Chronicle has admitted that it has been publishing stories under fake bylines that were provided by a firm it had hired to produce stories for its real estate and SFiS sections.

The practice of using fake bylines was first revealed by Public Radio’s “This American Life.”

“The articles, which covered real estate transactions, were an amalgamation of work by researchers in the Philippines, editors in the United States and information culled from public records through automatic filters,” the Chronicle said in an unbylined story posted at SFGate.

The articles were produced by BlockShopper.com, which is owned by a firm is called Journatic. Journatic hires freelancers who live elsewhere in the U.S. or overseas to generate copy for its client newspapers at a lower cost than if the newspaper’s staff were to produce the same content.

Clients include the Hearst Newspapers and the Tribune Co. In fact, Tribune is an investor in Journatic.

Journatic generates items such as police blotters, lists of real estate sales and reports on high school sports, for example.

“This American Life” reports that Journatic has 60 full-time employees and 200 freelancers including 100 people abroad.

The fake bylines were apparently used to disguise the fact that the stories were being written by people in places like the Philippines. When the freelancers interview their sources, they do so over the phone and have a number with a local area code.

The Chronicle says the use of fake bylines has been halted. However, it will continue using content from Journatic’s BlockShopper.

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