Reader Reforms

Plagiarizing magazine turns a new page

In October, I wrote about the most ridiculous (and egregious) case of editorial malpractice I’d ever seen.

Reader Magazine, of Redlands, California was swiping other publications’ content—much of it several years old—and republishing it as its own. On rare occasion, the magazine would run the original journalist’s byline, but even then, not credit the source publication nor seek permission to publish it.

This explains “how” Reader, the bi-monthly coupon magazine of San Bernadino County, landed interviews with figures like the Dalai Lama and Stephen Colbert.

At the time, Chris Theodore, the magazine’s founder and publisher refused to comment for the story and accused us of conspiring in a smear campaign. He threatened to sue.

And so, we’re pleased—and delightfully surprised—to see Mr. Theodore has opted for a more constructive course of action: he’s stopped plagiarizing.

At least in this most recent Winter 2011-2012 issue, all seems to be above board. The magazine contacted Ellen Hodgson Brown for permission to excerpt her book Web of Debt for its cover story, “Winter of our Discontent”. The other articles have bylines, a couple of which Theodore has actually authored himself. And rather than lifting a Q&A from another publication and substituting “Reader Magazine” for the name of the interviewer, per Reader tradition, Reader has transparently run the transcript of a speech by Chris Hedges as the transcript of a speech by Chris Hedges. No undue credit taken.

It’d be premature and excessive to say problem solved—you can still download everything Reader has plagiarized in the past at their website, for one—but Theodore deserves credit for moving his magazine in the right direction.

CJR may have had less to do with this change than did the cease and desist letter Yes! magazine sent to Theodore after discovering Reader had plundered much of its Fall 2008 “Purple America” issue for resurrection in Reader’s Fall 2011 “Purple America” issue. (Yes! also tipped us off to the story.)

In response to the letter, Theodore assured Yes! he would not use their content again, and insinuated that it was all a mistake helped along by the “unambiguous encouragement to use the information that appears at the Yes! website” and “the fact Yes! communicates that it wants to have its information disseminated as widely as possible.”

Reader, explained Theodore, was not plagiarizing or engaging in unfair use of another publication’s content, it was lending “our resources and voice to bring the ideas of Yes! magazine to a larger audience.”

Let’s hope Theodore doesn’t actually believe the excuses he’s making. We’ll be watching.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Erika Fry is a former assistant editor at CJR.