Some major players in an ongoing national story about journalism have Springfield roots.

Some major players in an ongoing national story about journalism have Springfield roots.

A company called Journatic, which provides content to a variety of newspapers, has been under fire since an NPR show, “This American Life,” did a 23-minute report on the company about three weeks ago.

It included then-Journatic employee RYAN SMITH, who helped reveal that one of Journatic’s practices was using employees in the Philippines who sometimes used fake names on their stories.

Smith, 34, now of Chicago, is a Springfield native and 1995 Springfield High School graduate. And company founder BRIAN TIMPONE, now of River Forest, was a Springfield–based reporter for a time in the 1990s for WCIA-TV in Champaign and later was press secretary to then-House Minority Leader LEE DANIELS, R-Elmhurst.

Smith was editor of The Lamp, the school paper at Lincoln Land Community College in 1996 and has a history degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia. He’s worked for newspapers in Missouri and California and now free-lances in Chicago for entities including the RedEye edition put out by the Chicago Tribune and a website of the Red Bull energy drink brand, where he writes about video games and sports. His parents, MARK and JAN Smith, still live in Springfield.

He said he went to the media with problems at Journatic after seeing abuses that included poor writing he had to edit and assignments to write about local subjects, like a high school “student of the month” for the Houston Chronicle. In an article he wrote for The Guardian, a British publication, after the NPR story aired, he described making that call to a Texas school while “sprawled on a couch in my apartment in Chicago.” He said there he was “trying to suspend my own belief that I’m reporting on a local news story from 1,000 miles away.”

 The Chicago Tribune, whose parent Tribune Co. is an investor in Journatic, has suspended use of the company in its TribLocal editions pending an investigation of the fake bylines and a case of what it called plagiarized and fabricated elements in a story. The Sun-Times has quit using the company.  The Houston Chronicle and other Hearst papers were reviewing their ties to Journatic after false bylines were found there.

KENDRA THORNTON, spokeswomen for Journatic, has released statements from the company including, “We respect the Chicago Tribune’s decision and will work hard going forward to attempt to regain its trust.”

The company also said it is “in the process of conducting a thorough review of our policies, software, technology and personnel.”

Smith said he’s always been a newspaper guy — and The State Journal-Register has been a big part of that identity. He said he started reading it “front to back” when in about fourth grade.

“I was the one that grabbed the newspaper,” he said, so he could read it with breakfast. “I’d read it before my parents.”

He said he “got more concerned” when he heard the SJ-R had become a Journatic client.
That relationship, which began last year, has ended.

“It was pretty much on the way out when I came in,” said SJ-R executive editor BOB HEISSE, who started here in March, and said it now “has been cut off formally.” Journatic was only intended for  “calendar items” and other minor listings, he said, and never was used “to actually interview people and do meetings or sports coverage.”

The SJ-R’s parent company, GateHouse Media, is developing its own content center in Rockford, Heisse said, but it also is intended for “some calendar items and small things like that.”

“None of these operations for us are what a reporter would do, in covering local news or local sports or anything like that,” Heisse said. He said such operations are “really happening almost everywhere now.”

M.J. PETERS, a retired Springfield High teacher now living in Paso Robles, Calif., was Smith’s instructor for a couple of classes including newspaper production. Through that class, Peters oversaw The Senator, the school paper.

“He always had interesting ideas for stories,” she said of Smith, and did an “incredibly thorough story” about a supposed ghost, from an old cemetery on the school site, at Springfield High.
“He enjoyed the fun of tracking things down,” Peters said. And as for Smith being the source on Journatic, she said,  “It’s been really fun to see the impact that story is making.”

Smith himself said reaction to the story has been “pretty amazing.”

“My hope in doing this is that people will kind of wake up from their slumber about what’s happening to newspapers,” he said.

Personnel shuffle
KELLY KRAFT, 39, who has been assistant director and communications director in the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, became director of communications for the governor last week.

MICA MATSOFF, 36, who had the top communications spot, became senior adviser to the governor.

BROOKE ANDERSON, 28, continues to be the governor’s press secretary.

Kraft, whose salary went from $106,000 to $111,000 with the change, has been with the state since 2009. A native of Peru in LaSalle County, she graduated from Indiana University, where she studied journalism and political science. She got a scholarship upon graduating that allowed her to travel in several cities in Eastern Europe, interviewing people after the fall of communism.

She was employed by NBC and Fox TV stations for almost 15 years, in jobs from anchor to producer to writer in cities including Las Vegas, Buffalo and San Diego. Fox-32 in Chicago was among stations at which she worked. She anchored live coverage of the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks, and provided national news coverage from Chicago’s Grant Park following BARACK OBAMA’s victory celebration there in 2008.

Kraft’s real last name is Krapf, but, said Anderson, she has used the name Kraft professionally since her days as a television news anchor. The change was made “at the request of her employer at the time,” Anderson said.

Matsoff, whose salary remains $120,000, in her new role will oversee key agencies, develop and implement strategies on high-profile issues and coordinate policies across various agencies. She has a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and has been in the governor’s office since January 2011. She earlier managed press operations for Quinn’s campaign, worked on the effort to bring Olympics to Chicago in 2016, and was spokeswoman for the commerce and employment security departments. She also worked several years for the Edelman public relations firm.

Anderson, who makes $85,000 annually, became Quinn’s spokeswoman in June 2011. She earlier was press secretary to Chicago mayoral candidate GERY CHICO, who now chairs the State Board of Education. She also worked for the Serafin & Associates public affairs firm in Chicago and in public relations in Boca Raton, Fla. She grew up in Deerfield Beach, Fla., and was a full-scholarship basketball player at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, where she got a TV/radio communications degree. She has a master’s in journalism from DePaul University.

All three women live in Chicago.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or follow him via twitter.com/bschoenburg. His email address is
bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.