The Fall of Cooks Source Magazine and the Slippery Slope of Scandals

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A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how a small business called Cooks Source Magazine plagiarized a woman’s article and, instead of apologizing to her, insisted that everyone steals content from the Internet and said that she should pay them money for bringing some exposure to her piece. An Internet backlash of epic proportions ensued, with irate people contacting the magazine’s advertisers, sending disgusted emails to the editor, and leaving exceptionally negative comments on the brand’s Facebook wall. Shortly after I published my post, Shoe wrote a piece called “Do You Need a Scandal?” and talked about how sometimes controversy can boost your business or image into the next level, and that there’s no such thing as bad press. I partially agree with him, but, as always, it’s all about execution.

First, an update about Cooks Source Magazine. In response to the backlash, the magazine shut down and the editor left an open letter on the website. The site itself now redirects to Intuit.com, which I’m assuming was the website builder with which Cooks Source was created. You can read the letter via a Google cache, but here’s the gist of what the editor said. She basically offered up an insincere apology and made a lot of excuses that she presumably thought would justify her plagiarism. Being tired and answering a work email too hastily isn’t really an excuse for stealing someone’s work, but whatever. She also insisted that the woman never “gave her a chance to respond to her” before “blasting” her. I’m assuming she forgot about the first response she sent where she not only defends her plagiarism, but has the gall to insinuate that the author pay the magazine for their troubles.

The editor then went into a sob story talking about how she volunteers her time to help “budding writers” with their writing skills (though based on how many spelling and grammar errors are in her open letter, I’m guessing she’s doing more harm than good to these people she’s supposedly mentoring), and that her small magazine staff was so overworked that when she was short one article, she got lazy, did a search on the Internet, and found an article that she “didn’t notice” was copyrighted (uh, what about the countless other copyrighted articles you published from numerous sources?). She also “forgot” to contact the author. This lady might be the world’s worst editor.

In her letter, she mentioned the following:

“Since then, we have had so much hate email (over 400 pieces), phone calls and regular mail. My advertisers too, have been so harassed that it has all muddies [sic] up the waters as to what the real situation is. I took the site downbecuase [sic] someone threatened to go to all the distribution spots and destroy the new issue, also to protect my advertisers…The bad news is that this is probably the final straw for Cooks Source. We have never been a great money-maker even with all the good we do for businesses. Having a black mark wont [sic] help…and now, our black mark will become our shroud. Winters are bleak in Western New England, and as such they are bleak for Cooks Source as well. This will end us.”

She closed by saying she wished the plagiarized author had “given [her] a chance,” which I thought the author had done when she initially contacted the editor to confront her about the plagiarism. But hey, that’s just me being logical and stuff.

When I first wrote about Cooks Source Magazine, some folks in the comments wondered if all of this bad press would end up being good for the magazine, and right after that, Shoe published his post about how scandals can be good for your business. I understood his point and agree that a scandal can sometimes be a good thing, but in certain circumstances:

  1. You’re a well established, big/strong brand.
    Tylenol and Bridgestone ain’t exactly mom and pop operations. They have entire teams of public relations people and spin doctors to deal with ugly mishaps like cyanide-laced medicine and exploding tires. These brands have been around for decades and have built a strong, legit reputation over the years. A scandal, even a big one, shouldn’t bankrupt the company unless it’s especially egregious or chronic. Hell, BP killed practically the entire ecosystem of a huge body of water and you don’t see them packing up their things and sticking a “For lease” sign in their office windows. On the other hand, if you’re a brand that’s just starting out and is relatively unknown, a scandal has the potential the do far greater damage than if you’re Coca Cola or Apple. If one of the first impressions the general public has of your business is negative, it’s going to be much harder to bounce back and use that to your advantage than it would be for Tylenol to endure a couple quarters of shitty sales.
  2. You know how to appropriately address the situation.
    The best course of action when facing a scandal is the three S’s: Speedy, Serious, and Sorry. If something shitty’s happened, act fast. The longer you wait, the worse the situation can get. Acknowledging the problem right away shows the public that you’re aware of the issue and are working on solving it as soon as possible. Also, be serious. If Chris Brown issued a press release saying, “I’m sorry that Rihanna tripped and broke her fall with my fist. LOL, j/k, sorry for beating her,” the public probably wouldn’t have been so quick to embrace his music again. Offer up sincere apologies and serious promises to fix things. Even if you think you did nothing wrong, as was the case with Cooks Source Magazine, sometimes it’s just easier to eat crow and say you’re sorry so that things can blow over. No qualifiers, no excuses — admit you were in the wrong, apologize, and start building your business back up. Even if the plagiarized author is a mean jerk, she had the upper hand and Cooks Source failed to realize it. Trying to paint that person in a negative light in order to evoke sympathy will be fruitless unless you have some Mel Gibson-type evidence that proves otherwise.
  3. You won’t be a repeat offender.
    Like I said in point #1, it’s easier to bounce back and get in the public’s good graces if you’ve learned your lesson and won’t let it happen again. Even if Cooks Source Magazine had emerged from this scandal relatively unscathed, if they kept stealing people’s articles and plagiarizing others’ works, their credibility and reputation would have continued to deteriorate until nobody trusted them, and when that happens, you can’t operate a successful business. Faulty designs need to be fixed, bad formulas need to get corrected, and bad employees need to get axed; otherwise, your business won’t be able to move on and heal from the negative publicity it received.

Cooks Source Magazine is really a fascinating example of how to handle bad publicity and what to do when a scandal disrupts your business. Shoe’s post came at great timing — it’s true that you can use a scandal to your advantage, but the tricky part is to know how to steer your business through the storm and emerge in relatively good shape. Unfortunately for Cooks Source, they not only couldn’t weather the storm, they ran into an iceberg, got attacked by a kraken, eaten by sharks, and leaked on by BP.

85 thoughts on “The Fall of Cooks Source Magazine and the Slippery Slope of Scandals

  1. ShoeMoney

    Who would have ever heard of this magazine before this? I guarantee their traffic is up 10000x since this scandal. But as you said its execution.

    If you have a good product then there is no such thing as bad press.

    1. d3so

      Bad press can certainly drive traffic. But always be respectable to others.
      I’m still in the process of trying to build my own reputable company.

    2. Rebecca Kelley Post author

      They discontinued the magazine and closed up shop after this scandal, so yeah, traffic may have gone up but their sales/distribution would have been negatively impacted by people contacting their advertisers and throwing away issues from distribution points. Cooks Source Magazine is no more.

      1. TomYoon

        Judith Griggs forgot a very important factor in publishing: If you write an article, you hold the copyright to that article. It doesn’t matter if you register it with the US Copyright Office or not, or even if you add “Copyright 2010″ to it or not. If you wrote it, the copyright is yours. No one else has the legal right to publish that article, in print or online, without your permission.

      2. H delacruz

        Last update I heard was this scandal didn’t just harm their reputation, it pretty much demolished it. Someone published a list of Cook’s Source’s advertisers and they’re getting bombarded. Some have already stated they’re pulling their ads and I’m guessing all will eventually. At least one small business that had ads there said they were pulling the ads despite having prepaid for several months and were going to have to eat the cost.

      3. Rachel

        The follow up piece to this post should be “How to Benefit From OPS” (Other People’s Scandals). The domain name expires in March 2011 and has over 3k links from some great sources, mostly because of the scandal. I’m not sure of all the logistics, but you could bid on the domain if it goes up for grabs in 2011 and either put up fresh content on the domain and put up any pages to match links or redirect the site to another domain and probably get a nice push.

    3. TheSandMan5050

      Yeah, a strong brand/good product can weather a scandal but not without losing money and credibility in the process. I don’t think there’s any company that would actively seek bad press for self-promotion unless they are absolutely sure they’d weather it with minimal losses.

      1. FirenzeZ

        Let’s start this comment with a borrowed tweet from BonnieCelt: “Oh, Cooks Source. Now we see that you’ve also stolen from Martha Stewart. Martha will cut you up and tastefully decoupage your dead body.” The way I see it, this fiasco will be a full-blown Internet meme in the next few days (unless it has already become one).

    4. floresparati

      I learned a few things from Cooks Source these past few days like 1. Steal recipes = profit! 2. I think the line “But honestly Monica…” is becoming a catchphrase 3. All of this talk of plagiarism and snatching copyrighted material from the web without permission immediately had intrepid Internet users backlogging Cooks Source issues and searching for other instances of intellectual property theft.

      1. KrisM77

        The Cooks Source Magazine shenanigan has turned into the biggest and fastest online “pile-on” I’ve ever seen – and it’s still going strong. This thing just keeps on getting juicier. What will emerge next?

        1. smstudent

          An investigation revealed that not only is Cooks Source in the practice of stealing articles and publishing material without permission, but the magazine often pilfers the images which accompany the content.

      2. Bputitout / Putitoutthere

        Reputation is a scarce good, and doing things that people don’t approve of can come back to bite you. As for Judith’s case — OUCH!

    1. Cristina Dy

      If you don’t have a presence online, someone else will create a fake one to attack you with. Apparently, some other hooligan just gave her a double dose of her own medicine. Way to keep it classy, Judith!

      1. Laney Pitt

        As hard as it is to sleep when someone on the Internet is wrong…a good course of action is to not respond. Judith clearly didn’t know when to put a cork in her piehole and this disaster ensued.

    1. newmediaist12

      What do you mean? Are you referring to this gem created by Rebecca or Judith’s publishing fiasco?

      1. Tammyexperiments

        Everything on their page is admittedly “public domain” and you should be happy we just didn’t “lift” your whole article and put someone else’s name on it!

    2. WhoSaysWhat01

      Well, they could probably do that but their reputation after the fiasco isn’t exactly something that would inspire confidence and following. What they could probably do is reinvent the company and hire a more competent editor who appreciates the value of ethics.

      1. WanderingMommy

        Hi Folks!

        Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad!
        You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!

        Best to all, Judith

        (Apology of the year candidate)

        1. veronica_sm

          That was an apology??? She never once admitted that what she did – a copy and paste job straight from the Goodecookery (or however you spell it) website — was in any way wrong. Never mind that she had Monica’s name still on the article, she reproduced it without permission in a place where the publisher was making a profit! Making money off of other people’s words without compensating them is wrong (unless you have permission to publish them).

      2. nealcal

        “The Cooks Source mission is to educate our readers in sustainable sources of foods and products, farms, restaurants and businesses; and to assist in readers’ understanding in the joy of simple basic cooking, and healthy, delicious eating…with an occasional decadent delight — in plagiarism and lifting images off the Internet, that is.”

  2. Nikki Stewart

    I feel sorry for the company for going down like that just because of an editor’s mishandling of the situation. But it seems it had it coming for letting such a person run things.

    1. Jona712

      Cooks Source was a publishing time bomb. One of the key principles demonstrated by the whole affair is that magazines are about much more than just the content inside, but about the community around it, and their values. This is what advertisers are buying into. Ain’t that straight to the point, Jeremy?

      1. EllaineR

        While big companies like Scripps (which owns The Food Network) have generous coffers with which to resolve legal matters, enthusiastic amateurs like Monica Gaudio don’t have that luxury. By the way, R.I.P. Cooks Source. :(

    2. joonlee97

      Pardon my French, Rebecca, but this is what we call a “raging shit tempest” way back in college. Go, Bruins!

    3. Nicole Burns

      “My advertisers too, have been so harassed that it has all muddies [sic] up the waters as to what the real situation is.” – I wonder what’s her version of the “real” story is. It’s either she’s on denial or she simply fails to see the stupidity of her actions.

    1. spameater

      I cringe at the thought of that editor mentoring anyone. What will she teach aspiring writers? How to lift articles and use excuses to wiggle their way out of plagiarism complaints?

    2. Robin Sterling

      Recap time! In that first email, Griggs asked Gaudio what she wanted to do about this whole hullabaloo. Gaudio replied that she wanted three things: an apology on Facebook, an apology in the magazine, and a $130 donation (ten cents a word for the 1,300 words that Griggs had published without Gaudio’s permission) to the Columbia School of Journalism. She decided upon CSJ because the famed New York school was considered to be an excellent one for journalism and because it was easy to make an online donation. The ending? Cooks Source blew all options.

      1. georgeblanco

        Did you know when this all began? Right when Gaudio said “I couldn’t believe I was explaining copyright to a magazine editor,” said Gaudio. “This is not fair use.”

    3. Bputitout / Putitoutthere

      A quick rundown of the plot I got from AtlanticBT’s Keith Stojka:

      In 2005 – Monica Gaudio, amateur writer/blogger, posted an article about her experience recreating apple pie recipes from the medieval era (no, I’m not kidding). The article clearly contained a copyright notice at the bottom of the page.

      October 2010 – The Cooks Source Disaster is set in motion when Cooks Source editor, Judith Griggs, gives the thumb’s up to reprint Monica’s original article in the October 2010 Cooks Source Magazine issue – without Monica’s permission or knowledge! (Psss… Judith, that’s what we call “plagiarism”, a.k.a “stealing”.)

      October 2010 – Jeff Berry sent an email to his friend, Monica Gaudio. “As American As Apple Pie – Isn’t!” had been published in Cooks Source Magazine. “Is this your article?” Jeff asked. A stunned Gaudio confirmed it was.

      November 2010 – Emails that you would fully expect ensue between Monica (“Hey, you stole my article!”) and Judith (“Uhhhh, ummm…. I’m not here right now?”). The back and forth continued a few times, before Judith penned this doozy of an email, launching the Cooks Source Disaster into orbit, at an astonishing pace that I’ve never before seen.

  3. Husher50

    That editor should have been sacked after her email to the plagiarized author first went public. She clearly brought that mess to the company.

    1. F2Xsites

      There’s a lesson here for those who resort to plagiarizing content. Sadly, there are many of those around.

    2. moolahmachine

      I give Judith’s apology a D+. It’s the apology of someone who is sorry she got caught, not the apology of someone who feels she has done wrong. And, well. She did do wrong, and she should have done better.

    3. WanderingMommy

      One of the key points I’ve realized over the years is that reputation is a scarce good, and doing something bad can be quite costly. Especially if you see one of these bat poo “apologies” surfacing in your Facebook feed:

      Hi Folks!

      Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologize to Monica via email, but apparently it wasn’t enough for her. To all of you, thank you for your interest in Cooks Source and Again, to Monica, I am sorry — my bad! You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…” we used to have 110 “friends,” we now have 1,870… wow!

      Best to all, Judith

      1. melg

        Way to go, Judith Griggs! I hope the satisfaction you got from writing that email you sent to the author is enough to compensate for the backlash that you brought on Cook Source Magazine’s doorstep.

      1. Bowie

        No idea. But I don’t think any business owner would be dumb enough to cause his or her company that much trouble.

  4. The American Dream

    I guess Cook Source replaced the three S’s with their very own “brand” of attention: BS. Enough said. What do you think, Shoe?

    1. medomoc

      Or how about the ultra famous Customer Reception Always Prioritized strategy? LOL. Nice one, brother.

  5. AnnieLouJ12860

    “Hell hath no fury like a food blogger ripped off by a two-bit print mag.” (RT @msmacabante)

    1. Yes2Freebies

      Nice one! A simple apology would have been a good start in fixing the problem. The editor foolishly wasted the chance to redeem herself and protect the company from ruin.

      1. Rebecca Kelley Post author

        I’ve heard that too. The actual recipe as a standalone is fine, but any copy surrounding that (like if you go into the history of the apple pie or share a personal anecdote) is copyrightable.

    2. socialanim00

      #ButHonestlyMonica you should be the one thanking me for lifting your article without your consent. I’ll wait for the check you owe me for fixing it.

      Sincerely,
      Judith G.

  6. TYCP Magazine

    I don’t feel sorry for her. She got what was coming. She had a lot of nerve trying to make up excuses as to why she stole the article. Bottom line is she’s a thief & plagiarizer. What happened afterwards is the price she’s paying for doing those things.

    Oh & I would bet anything that she’s been blacklisted. No well-respected magazine would want someone like her working for them.

  7. WilmaP

    Come to think of it. After people heard about the Cooks Source story, it wasn’t long before some took the opportunity to set up fake Twitter accounts and a Facebook user account in Judith’s name. Their genuine Facebook page went from 100 ‘likes’ to over 3,000, as people ‘liked’ the page in order to post a critical comment (given the huge numbers of comments it’s fair to say there were many more people who un-’liked’ the page as soon as their comment was posted). So bad publicity is still great publicity after all, Rebecca? What’s your two cents’ worth on this?

    1. PattyT12

      Judith’s absurd email response found it’s way online, and spread like wildfire, leading to:

      Thousands of people posting put-downs and jokes on the Cooks Source Magazine Facebook page. As we watched it unfold in the afternoon on November 5th, posts were going up faster than every 4 seconds!

      Judith’s Cooks Source team, being bombarded with Facebook slams, creates a new Facebook page (while leaving the old one active, still racking up the insults). The new page gets hammered in the same way, at the same rate. Judith just doesn’t get it. On the new Cooks Source Facebook page, the Cooks Source team posted (the name has now been changed to “Josh Goldberg” , “Don’t you think that jumping on a band wagon just makes you look lily-livered?” and “I don’t know what some of you think you are going to achieve? We apologized, now go find a rabbit to catch or something”.

      A full Wikipedia page dedicated to the “Cooks Source infringement controversy” is posted the same day. As of this post, Wikipedia contains 37 references to articles written about this disaster.

      They’re lucky the bandits from 4chan still haven’t made their move yet.

    2. Rebecca Kelley Post author

      Well, in this case the magazine went out of business so I’d wager that all of the fake pages and publicity ended up hurting more than helping. Besides, if someone comes across a fake version of your brand that is providing a negative experience, I don’t think that would influence someone to buy your product or use your services.

  8. Ara600_m1

    Writing unique content is hard work – it takes a lot of time and effort to craft written words that others will find interesting enough to read. But trying to dig yourself out of a deep hole after being caught plagiarizing another’s work is MUCH harder work! If you include any snippets of content from other websites, make sure you reference the original source – and including a link to the original source website is always in good taste. Good luck on your next gig, Judith.

    1. internetFTW

      The problem with stealing content and ideas is that you could get used to doing it. She could learn from this experience, i.e. if she ever comes around to sincerely acknowledging her fault in everything that happened.

      1. MVZP_01

        I doubt she’ll see it that way. So far she has shown a remarkable skill in coming up with excuses. She’ll probably blame everyone else except herself for what happened.

  9. AL0101

    Nice article! I bet everyone at Cook Source Magazine didn’t expect the issue to escalate so quickly. Too bad they had a sorry excuse for an editor to manage things for them.

    1. SmallBiz Sue

      She was handed a rope to pull herself up from the hole she created but she refused it. What’s so hard about an issuing apology? Her pride just made everything worse.

  10. Marnie Sho

    “Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently it wasnt enough for her.” What the heck is this? Some kind of sick joke?

    1. Get That Ball

      No one would feel sorry for her if she keeps the attitude. She sure knows how to play the blame game.

  11. NicMoon

    I have no doubt that Ms. Griggs has more and more people to apologize to and while I think this statement is a step in the right direction I also think that there are plenty more steps which she’ll have to take to clear this up entirely. Nonetheless, is it just me or does anybody else think that Judith has suffered enough and it’s time to leave her alone?

    1. WhateverWorks

      It’ll pass soon enough. In the meantime, she probably should refrain from writing any more emails or statements that would only make her sink deeper into that hole she dug for herself.

    2. PokeYerFace

      She hasn’t been sincere in her apologies so she shouldn’t expect people to leave her alone right now.

  12. RedBlack88

    She claims to have 30 years of experience in editing and yet she showed an utter disregard for copyright law.

  13. Susan Armand

    I’m disappointed because plagiarism and content theft for financial gain are rife, because the internet is full of “writers” and companies which routinely use the words of others for their own financial gain, and often compound this with plagiarism. Let us unite against Internet plagiarism and content theft!

  14. ILoveMemes

    Agreeing to issue a public apology on Facebook and donating the $130 to Columbia’s journalism school should’ve have settled the matter. The editor had her chance to set things right but she ruined it by writing that condescending email.

    1. Austin

      If I were her, I’d shut up and let things blow over. It’s difficult to sympathize with someone who can’t even apologize properly.

  15. Big Al

    new definition for griggs (1. To use content on the web without permission, then request payment from original author for rewrites and editing. 2. To remain ignorant of plagiarism, ethics, copyright, and asshat behavior.) – from knowyourmeme.com

  16. New Bee

    It’s a shame that whatever that magazine was trying to accomplish was all undone by it’s editor’s mistake.

  17. Pauletta Lemke

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  18. wedge

    Did none of you read the article? The author states quite clearly the magazine went out of business and she has had to re-state it several times in the comments.

    WTH?

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