PR agencies can pay for journalist ‘dossiers’

Some obscure profiles from NewsBios get factchecked

For as little as $200, NewsBios provides “reputation insurance” to PR agencies and corporations preparing for interviews. It compiles dossiers on journalists, scouring obituaries, social media, real-estate records, and past stories, and claims to turn up worldview-shaping experiences. The rub is in a disclaimer: NewsBios doesn’t verify the information found online. CJR asked three journalists to factcheck excerpts from their files.

Dyan Machan
Contributing Editor, Barron’s

Bio includes:
Hudson Valley home address and valuation
A reputation for “charm and sense of humor”
The names of Machan’s dog, Alice, and cat, Aad

“Ms. Machan is a registered Democrat. Public records indicate that in 2007, she contributed to both Barack Obama’s ($500) and Hillary Clinton’s ($1,000) presidential campaigns.”

“I found the stuff pretty weird and only partially true. I gave to Barack Obama’s campaign and I believe I gave more than the amount listed. I never gave to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The real estate information is basically correct, and publicly available. I do not have a cat but do have a dog named Alice. It is possible this last bit came from social media. While I seldom post, my husband is an avid poster. As for charm and humor, that is certainly subjective.” (Editor’s note: According to Federal Election Commission filings, the official source documenting political campaign donations, Machan contributed $1,000 to Clinton’s campaign and $500 to Obama’s, as NewsBios stated in its dossier.)

Margot Sanger-Katz
Healthcare reporter for The Upshot, NYT

Bio includes
Enthusiasm for popcorn
A note that none of Sanger-Katz’s stories have appeared on A1 of Times.
Attention to an August story that required three corrections

“One revealing snippet from Ms. Sanger-Katz’s writing . . . is her choice of the word ‘we’ (versus ‘they’) . . . . As a journalist, she is not charged with also being a ‘consumer advocate,’ although by using ‘we’ she groups herself (and perhaps her colleagues at The Upshot) in with worried advocates.”

“There’s nothing in here that seems difficult to get. It looks like it’s mostly LinkedIn, some news reports about my hiring, and my public social media profiles. A few details come from going into the back pages of a Google search for my name. Of course, I am the only person with my name, so I’m probably easier to Google than many other reporters.”

Ankit Ajmera
Correspondent, Thomson Reuters

Bio includes
Distinction between Reuters’ Bangalore “farm team” and “major league” newsrooms
Photo claiming to be a view from his apartment window

“To the extent that financial journalism can be scripted . . . Reuters’ correspondents in India are ‘programmed’ to cover the companies on their beats. . . . [T]he questions that Mr. Ajmera will ask during interviews with U.S. corporate executives  . . . will be very similar to other Bangalore-based correspondents.”

“I don’t think ‘programmed’ is the right word when it comes to covering companies. Most journalists who join the organization are required to undergo some form of training. The picture was shot at the Times of India building in Mumbai. NewsBios must have taken it from my Twitter profile.”

The story’s subhead previously misspelled NewsBios as two words instead of one.

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Chris Ip is a CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisiptw. This story was published in the January/February 2015 issue of CJR with the headline, "Is that you?"