Meet Kevin Lyons, the Northwest Herald’s news editor.
Born on the South Side of Chicago, he’s lived in Woodstock since 1996. Lyons is married to a former Northwest Herald reporter whom he met in an Algonquin bar. They are raising two children in District 200; the oldest attends second grade at Westwood Elementary School.
Lyons said his favorite thing about Woodstock “is that you run into the same people all over town, and there’s usually one degree of separation between those you don’t know. When there’s something people like or don’t like in the newspaper, I expect to hear about it at the grocery store, at a backyard barbecue or even at a Little League game.”
Reporter Chelsea McDougall has lived in McHenry almost her entire life. She graduated from McHenry High School West Campus in 2002, went to college, and took a couple of newspaper jobs downstate before returning home to McHenry County in 2010 to work for her hometown newspaper.
“I’m drawn to McHenry County’s inherent philanthropic nature,” McDougall said. “No matter what fundraiser, mission trip, charity golf outing, volunteer opportunity, food drive or Girl Scout cookie sale, it seems McHenry County residents rise to help their neighbors, and [they do] so without hesitation.”
Joan Oliver, our community editor, was born at the old McHenry Hospital. She attended McHenry schools, graduating from McHenry West in 1986. After receiving her journalism degree from Northwestern University, she returned to McHenry County to work at the Northwest Herald. She lived in Woodstock during the filming of “Groundhog Day,” moved to downtown Crystal Lake before she got married, and settled in McHenry, where she’s lived for the past 16 years.
“Why do I love McHenry County? Because it’s home,” she said.
As for myself, I’ve lived and worked in McHenry County since 2004, briefly in Lake in the Hills, and in southern Crystal Lake since. The only school my children have known is South Elementary School in District 47, although my son is moving on to Lundahl Middle School in the fall.
I love our community’s dedication to its children, from its great schools, to its exceptional youth athletic programs, to its other child-friendly activities. I enjoy the Prairie Trail bike path, the McHenry Outdoor Theater, the many outdoor swimming options, and, of course, this area’s wonderful people.
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And your point is ...: I could go on and on about the local ties that members of our staff have. But why? Why am I writing my staff’s biographies, and sharing with you what we love about the McHenry County communities we live in?
It’s to emphasize that Northwest Herald journalists work and live here. When we write a local story – whether it’s something tragic, such as a fatal car crash, or something joyous, such as a local team winning a state championship – we realize the words we use affect members of the community where we live.
That doesn’t mean we’re going to sugarcoat the news or not cover a legitimate news story because someone (or ones) aren’t going to like it. But it does mean we care about what we write.
As Lyons said, when we get something wrong, when we show poor judgment with a headline or photo or story we publish, we hear about it from our neighbors. We feel bad about it, and we work hard to correct it and do better the next time.
That’s partly because we don’t want to be wrong. But it’s also because we live among our readers. We shop at the same stores, go to the same parks, swim in the same lakes and pools and send our children to the same schools.
The fact is, that isn’t the case at all other media outlets. Sadly, some media companies have decided to do whatever it takes to get “local” content as cheaply as they can.
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Outsourced news: That brings me to Journatic. Not heard of Journatic? I’m not surprised. Journatic and the media companies who use it really don’t want news consumers to know who they are. But I’ll let you in on their secret.
Journatic hires low-paid freelancers in places such as the Philippines, Brazil and Africa to scrape local websites for information they formulate into “local” stories. Some major media companies have contracted with Journatic to write “local” stories for them at low cost.
The Chicago Tribune, for example, recently fired several of its suburban journalists – journalists who live and work in the area – and outsourced much of the reporting to Journatic. The Tribune has invested in this service for its TribLocal coverage in communities throughout the suburbs, including in McHenry County.
Exactly how low-paid are these foreign freelancers? According to the Chicago public radio show “This American Life,” produced by WBEZ, they earn between 35 and 40 cents a story. (And journalists in America thought they were underpaid!)
Journatic’s practices also have come under scrutiny. According to media reports, they’ve been known to add fake “Americanized” bylines to stories (including on some TribLocal stories); foreign-based reporters have obtained temporary local phone numbers in the U.S. so it appears to sources the reporters are local; and Journatic has paid off employees to not talk to the media about its practices.
After the WBEZ piece, the Poynter Institute wrote an interesting article about Journatic last weekend. You can read it at http://shawurl.com/ae1.
Since these media reports, the Tribune announced it was investigating the ethical violations. It gave no indication whether it was ending its relationship with Journatic, as some other media companies – including the Sun-Times – recently have.
My question for the Tribune is, why haven’t you dumped Journatic already? Have your standards fallen that far? Why should your readers trust any of your stories?
Here are a few more questions that local news producers and consumers should ask.
Can low-paid freelance journalists located more than 8,000 miles away really cover Chicago and the suburbs, putting stories in their proper context, with a feel for what life is like in McHenry and surrounding counties? Do they know who their readers are, and what kind of impact their words and other decisions have? How invested are they in their work? Do they care if they get something wrong?
“When you write about local people, you’re cognizant that this is someone’s son, someone’s neighbor or friend,” said Lyons, our news editor. “These are real people to you and often people who mean something to people you live around. News must be reported, but people aren’t to be exploited. People expect more from us. We have responsibilities to be good neighbors and community members, too. It’s a two-way discussion.”
Try having that discussion with someone in Manila.
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Going viral: U.S. House Speaker John Boehner tweeted a link to our Tuesday story on the concerns McHenry County business owners and operators have about President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act.
The story, by Northwest Herald senior reporter Kevin Craver, included interviews with Gary Kinshofer, co-owner of Harvard-based manufacturer Aero Industries; Tom Kusmerz, president of The Barn Nursery and Landscape Center in Cary; and Lawrence O’Connor, CEO of Other World Computing in Woodstock.
“#Smallbiz owners worry #ObamaCare will ‘make it counterproductive to grow & add new jobs,’ ” Boehner tweeted along with the link.
Many of Boehner’s more than 300,000 followers replied to or retweeted the speaker’s message, sending the story around the world.
Journatic just might have picked it up and reported it as its own, fake byline and all.
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Waterlogged: I’ve just returned from a fun, refreshing few days with the family at the Wisconsin Dells.
It was a great time, but if I don’t see another water slide again this year, I’d be OK with that.
If I don’t see another 100-degree day this year, that’d be cool with me, too.
Have a great week.
• Dan McCaleb is senior editor of the Northwest Herald. He can be reached at 815-526-4603, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.