In an update to a story I covered on Monday, the magazine Cooks Source, which was accused by writer Monica Gaudio of taking an article she had written and republishing it without her permission, has apologized for the incident.
In a posting on their site, the magazine said that:
Last month an article, “American as Apple Pie — Isn’t,” was placed in error in Cooks Source, without the approval of the writer, Monica Gaudio. We sincerely wish to apologize to her for this error, it was an oversight of a small, overworked staff.
The apology continues by saying that they have made a donation to the Columbia Journalism School, a request Gaudio had made when she first noticed the misuse, and they have also made a donation to a local food bank in her name.
The note also says that the magazine had suspended its Facebook account effective Nov. 4th, and that “It has since been since been hacked by unknown parties and now someone else unknown to us has control of it.” This means the statements posted to the account, often reported as being from Cooks Source Editor Judith Griggs, were actually an impostor.
However, the apology may actually be doing more harm than good and seems to be stirring up as much agitation as it calms.
As I read through the apology, I am somewhat forced to agree that it is both poorly worded and incomplete and will likely do little to resolve the matter with any finality.
Problems With the Apology
To be clear, the apology is not nearly as tone-deaf as the Griggs’ original emailed response to Gaudio. If Griggs or anyone at Cooks Source had offered this kind of apology up front, along with the donation, it is unlikely anything major would have come of the incident.
However, in light of how Griggs did respond and what did happen after the scandal broke out on the Web (not to mention that nearly a week has passed since Gaudio’s first posting), the apology has to come under additional scrutiny.
Specifically, there are three major problems I see and three questions I still feel need to be answered.
- Lack of Responsibility: Blaming the copying of article on “an oversight of a small, overworked staff” not only feels like an attempt to shirk blame but also doesn’t make sense. How was this an error? What was the mistake? How exactly did this happen? There are no clear answers in the apology.
- No Mention of Griggs’ Response: The main focus of the controversy was not the actual copying of Gaudio’s article but Griggs’ response to her when she asked for an apology. However, nowhere does Cooks Source mention or apologize for that behavior as unprofessional and factually inaccurate as it was.
- No Mention of Other Cases: Finally, since the scandal broke, readers have combed through Cooks Source’s archive and have found many other examples of copying and reuse of content without permission, including from news organizations such as NPR. No mention of the other cases was made at all, possibly because some may be turning into legal battles shortly.
The one thing the apology does do well is explain what the magazine will be doing differently in the future, namely citing all sources, getting written permission before using content (though submitted content will be seen as already having permission) and the use of either self-taken images or royalty-free ones for stories.
While these are all good changes, they are all things the publication should have done since day one and it’s rather gobsmacking that they weren’t. This seems to highlight that the issue Gaudio spotted is not a case of a rogue reporter or editor, but rather, a systemic issue that at least was a part of Cooks Source policy.
Sadly, that revelation isn’t likely to do much for Cooks Source reputation nor their situation.
In the end, even a pitch-perfect apology would not have been enough in this case. Nearly a week had passed and even before the apology appeared irreparable damage had been done.
Already, a Google search for Cooks Source turns up hundreds of articles about the scandal, including many mainstream media ones, an apparently successful campaign targeting the magazine’s advertisers hurt the magazine’s income and the Facebook page was overrun by negative comments to the point it was abandoned.
It seems unlikely anything Cooks Source could have said, short of a magic spell to turn back time, would have saved them. Still, a good apology and an explanation might have been the beginnings of at least some rebuilding.
Right now, though it seems the magazine is going to try to press on, it certainly seems like they have an uphill battle and this response isn’t going to help.