3 Steps to Avoid Being the Next Cooks Source

If you missed the Cooks Source brouhaha at the end of last week, there are plenty of great, detailed articles on what went down. Here's the short version:

Cooks Source Magazine apparently swiped a 2005 blog post by Monica Gaudio and put it in their magazine and online without permission or credit. She reached out to the magazine, assuming it was a mistake, and asked for a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism to be made in her name. The response from editor Judith Griggs is now becoming an Internet meme:

[H]onestly 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 [sic] 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!"

Wow. Just wow. (And not the fact that Judith Griggs doesn't know how to spell "offense.")

The outcome? Cooks Source's Facebook business page has become a place for the entire web to spew their venom and hatred towards a magazine that most of them had never heard before. Fake Facebook pages. Fake Twitter accounts. Advertisers pulling out of the magazine. The official Facebook page being hacked so many times it's hard to know who's actually running the asylum. In fact, there's very little difference between the language coming out of the fake Twitter account and the official Facebook page.

How Can You Avoid the Same Fate?

As you can see, you don't need to be as big as BP to create a giant oil spill of vitriol on the Web. There are a few ways in which you can avoid this for your own business:

  1. Don't steal, plagiarize, or break any of the other commandments. This seems obvious, but a lot of companies that spend a lot of money on "reputation management" would get a better ROI from just not being jerks in the first place.
  2. Definitely don't steal, plagiarize or otherwise offend a blogger or anyone else with a social media megaphone. Let's face it, if Cooks had stolen from a local newspaper's recipe section this probably never would have blown up the way it did.
  3. Own your mistake. When you do make a mistake, whether by accident or on purpose, own up to it quickly and make amends. This is the right thing to do, and it's the quickest way to diffuse a potentially damaging outcome. Despite their ongoing cavalier attitude towards the backlash against the magazine, I'm guessing Cooks Source wishes they had a) never (allegedly) plagiarized that blog post, and b) donated $130 to the Columbia School of Journalism. I've been really impressed by the Domino's ads lately (whatever you may think of their pizza) and how transparent they are. Case in point, showing real photos of poorly delivered pizzas and promising to do better. Admittedly, you could write this off as savvy PR, but hey, what's wrong with savvy PR?

Some interesting facts:

You can easily plagiarize Rich Brooks by retweeting him on Twitter.

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2 Comments

  • Tim Northcutt

    This is outrageous...They would throw you out of college for lifting material from others without crediting the source.

    "We edited and improved your copy?"

    Without the author's permission????

    You must be kidding me???

    SUE THEM for plagiarism!!!!

    I sure as Hell would!!!!

    A-Hats!!!!

  • Tyler Gray

    I might add that there's been a fair amount of doubt about whether this thing is an intricately planned hoax. I thought that, too, and began digging. The magazine is real. It had advertisers. I talked to one over the weekend. The owner/manager of Front Porch Cafe acknowledged on Sunday that the restaurant had advertised in Cooks Source. He's held a physical copy in his hand, he said. Although it's probably the hardest find publication on the planet -- it's editor has, until now, had a remarkable ability to keep herself off of the Internet and keep her business out of the press -- it is, amazingly, a publication. For now.