Cooking up a controversy: Author says magazine told her to “be happy” they plagiarized

It’s really simple. Never plagiarize.

Kids learn it in school. I’m not talking J-school but grade school. Certainly high school.

It’s part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. We elaborate on some points but not this one. Two words: “Never plagiarize.”

You may have seen Facebook and the Internet blow up today over an incident on which we’ve only heard one side. I want to be clear on that because that’s another part of our ethics code: “Test the accuracy of information from all sources.”

We haven’t heard from the regional food magazine at the center of a storm after a writer accused it of what seems to be either the ultimate chutpah or a lapse in judgment on the order of Mt. Everest. We tried to contact the magazine. No one is answering phone calls or e-mails.

Here’s what the one side that’s talking is saying: Author Monica Gaudio says a friend contacted her to congratulate her on her article “A Tale of Two Tarts” getting published in a regional food magazine called Cooks Source. Guadio says that was a surprise to her (her original article is here). She looked it up and sure enough, there was her article and her byline. So she says she contacted an editor at Cooks Source and asked for a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism in lieu of payment for her work.

(This post from “How Publishing Really Works” has a pretty good run-down of the situation, with many updates. Apparently it’s not just Guadio’s work that’s possibly been plagiarized.)

Now, this is the part Guadio claims that’s blown up the Internet. Remember, we have no proof other than her word, which has been widely quoted, because we haven’t heard from Cooks Source.

Here is part of what Gaudio says the editor e-mailed her:

“But honestly Monica, the web is considered ‘public domain’ and you should be happy we just didn’t ‘lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me! I never charge young writers for advice or rewriting poorly written pieces, and have many who write for me… ALWAYS for free!”

Really?

It’s hard to believe any professional journalist would say this, which is why I’m couching this blog post and being cautious about accusations against Cooks Source’s editor (though the evidence is certainly not in the magazine’s favor). I mean, every high schooler knows if they plagiarize they get an “F”. College students know they get expelled. And who ever said the Internet is “public domain”? Gaudio published her original article on her own domain, which she says contains a clear copyright notice at the bottom of the webpage.

In case anyone’s confused, the Internet is not public domain. People still own their creative output. It’s still wrong to plagiarize in part or in whole.

It seems a lot of people get that. Since the magazine’s website directs people to its Facebook page, a lot of people started “liking” Cooks Source. Usually that’s a good thing, but not in this case. Check it out.

Ouch.

Again, we only have one side here and can’t seem to get the other. But late this afternoon, the story Cooks Source had posted under Gaudio’s name no longer appeared online. Instead, the link reads: “This content is currently unavailable. The page you requested cannot be displayed right now.”

We don’t know what happened to all the hard copies. You can’t delete newsprint.

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