Timpone defended the stories themselves as accurate, and as for the bylines, said: “It was an oversight and mistake, but hardly malicious.”
Why do it? Timpone suggested he was trying to shield his staff from blowback from people who were unhappy that their high-end home purchases were made public, and said team efforts are awkward to credit accurately.
Now, for centuries bylines weren’t used by journalists, as Jack Shafer points out, and are still used inconsistently. And pseudonyms have honorable literary pedigree. But the Journatic fuss isn’t about credits. As Matthew Ingram argues, the bylines are “a red herring.”
The issue is authenticity. Ryan Smith, the TAL informant, described his discomfiture about concealing his whereabouts from a school principal in Texas, whom he phoned from Chicago for a quickie profile of a student for a Houston website. “There’s just something inauthentic about the whole process,” he said.
Time and again, in the recurring flaps over plagiarism and originality, the liberties writers take with facts, spin and bias, truth and fabrication, authenticity emerges as a major concern in this new media age.
The preoccupation is understandable in that digital media, miraculous as they are, make falsity and concealment easier than ever: Content is replicated and shared instantaneously; authorship becomes unknowable. The most innovative new expressive form of digital media isn’t creation, it’s curation: The thoughtful selection and reassembly of work originating elsewhere.
So curious though it is, the Journatic dustup reflects concerns that won’t go away. Digital technology’s capacity is breathtaking, but the difference between an honest report and a computer simulation is one that must not be lost.