For a quarterly coupon magazine—even “Southern California’s best coupon, calendar & news magazine”—Reader Magazine would appear to have landed some major exclusives.
This summer, the magazine, which is distributed by mail to 150,000 households in San Bernadino county, caught up with the Dalai Lama.
And in 2008, it asked questions of Thomas L. Friedman, John McCain, and Stephen Colbert.
From the February/March/April 2008 “Reader Magazine interview of Senator, John McCain, 2008 Presidential candidate” (Reader does not make it easy to link directly to their articles, but back issues are available in PDF format on their website):
Reader Magazine: As you look at yourself, was your courage there before you were taken prisoner or did it develop?
McCain: I think it developed in this respect. I had believed that all glory was self glory and that I didn’t need anybody else and I could do everything on my own and I was brave and tough and I was just like Robert Jordan, my hero, the protagonist in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
The thing is, Reader’s interview is an awfully lot like—almost word for word, in fact—an interview CNN’s Larry King did with John McCain in 2005.
KING: As you look at yourself was your character there before you were taken prisoner or did it develop there?
MCCAIN: I think it developed in this respect and I believe that all glory was self glory and that I didn’t need anybody else and I could do everything on my own and I was brave and tough and I was just like Robert Jordan, my hero, the protagonist in “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”
Similarly, Reader’s interview with the Dalai Lama, published earlier this year, was originally published in 2006, in The Progressive. Thomas L. Friedman’s interview (November/December/January 2008-09) was taken from Time. And the exchange in which Reader “sat with” Stephen Colbert (May/June/July 2008) appears to be a combined work of fiction and bits from the comedian’s appearance at Harvard and his bio on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website.
RM: Your background is in entertainment.
SC: And my foreground. What is The Reader anyway? Who has time to read today?
Indeed. What is the Reader anyway? Though Reader founder Chris Theodore says his magazine is ten years old, only issues from 2008 on are available on its website. From a search of the magazine’s back issues, Reader appears to be a usually 32-page publication of advertisements—tailored to four neighborhoods in San Bernardino County—and content it seems to take from almost anywhere and then claims as its own.
In each of the above cases, Reader represented the interview as its work; Reader Magazine is substituted for the name of the original interviewer in all but the Q&A with the Dalai Lama, in which Amitabh Pal is given a byline, but neither The Progressive nor the original 2006 publication date is mentioned. In some cases, the interviews were shortened or lightly edited. Good thing, too, since the material was lifted from publications that were several years out-of-date; in Pal’s interview, Reader omitted a reference to the Iraq War and changed the Dalai Lama’s age from 70 to 76, for example.
“This is definitely unethical, and, at some level, troubling. Unfortunately, in this day and age, it is fairly common, certainly online but also in print,” said Pal when I informed him of his work’s second run. “The practices by the Reader are, sadly, part of a broader trend.”
Perhaps. Plagiarism certainly happens today. The digital age has brought new ease for writers to cut and copy, as well as a vaster universe for them to cut and copy from. These developments have coincided with an era charged with the spirit of aggregation and the collaborative wiki-, while also squeezed by time and budgets and the constant call to do more with less. None of this excuses plagiarism, but helps to explain why it continues.
Yet Reader, the oddly-titled, quarterly coupon magazine of Southern California, is a completely different beast. As evidenced by its tendency to raid journalism’s grave circa 2006, Reader is not on this frantic publishing hamster wheel. Its plagiarism is not isolated to a few sentences or a choice turn of phrase. It’s not the work of a rogue reporter trying to get ahead, or an overwhelmed reporter trying to keep up. It is the whole scale ripping off of others’ work.