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A week ago, I received a concerned email from a longtime freelancer for City Pages. She had received a forwarded email from One Nation News, a website and newspaper dedicated to covering minority issues and interests in the state of Minnesota. Imagine her surprise when she saw her A-List blurb reprinted word for word in the newsletter with "Joe Johnson" in the byline.
"What should I do?" she lamented. "The guy even signed his name to it."
I had to take a closer look.
It turns out that City Pages has a lot in common with One Nation News. I've got to say that, at the very least, their entertainment writers, Joe Johnson and Nick Peterson, are complex dudes of varied styles who really get out and about. Johnson, for example, has an interest in Lyle Lovett, just like our regular contributor Rick Mason does. And then there's Peterson, who has a lot in common with our freelancer Erin Roof. Peterson even shares the exact same opinions as I do on Saturday Night Nine for Nine. Pretty much word for word.
I hate to say it, but most of the stuff I found on One Nation News's website gives me major flashes of déjà vu. In fact, many of the blurbs are nearly identical to A-List items I assigned, wrote, and edited last week. I could include more, but what we're really talking about here is a classic instance of copy, paste, and delete the byline.
But the coincidence doesn't end there. A quick Google search reveals that the staff at One Nation News plagiarized other media outlets as well, including WCCO, the New York Times, the Star Tribune, and the Huffington Post. Sometimes the byline changes, sometimes it's the same. Did One Nation News pay to reprint this material?
Bryson explained that they have one staff writer who is "kind of overworked," as he is expected to write four or five articles a day, though rewrites of articles are also allowed, which presumably makes the workload more reasonable.
So, what does he mean by rewrites? According to him, workhorse Johnson rewrites articles taken from the Star Tribune, City Pages, NPR, and the New York Times, to name only a few.
"He's kind of a last guy standing," says Bryson. "He's a young kid who wants to be a journalist but he's not sure he wants to do that anymore."
Johnson sounds like a guy going through an existential crisis. My advice? Walk away while you still can, Joe. One day you're hitting Ctrl+C then Ctrl+V into blog software, the next someone's making an unflattering movie about you called Shattered Glass and you're being played by Darth Vader.
But seriously, guys, this isn't cool.
Bryson called back a few minutes later after checking on the situation. "I've just spoken with someone who says that summer's been kind of a hard time and they have been doing that, so our process sucked over the summer. I apologize. I was like, 'This isn't happening, right?' And apparently it did happen."
Bryson went on to explain that a young man named Garrett is actually responsible for the misunderstanding. But what happens now?
"I think we're going to have to let Garrett go. I've been doing this for a while, so I know what's cool and what's not, but the process is that I should have said, 'Hey, this is something you have to be very aware of. If there's no name on it, check with me or check with someone.'"
Indeed. One Nation News is chopping apart and revising their site as I type this. It appears that journalism has struck again, leaving a trail of new adjectives and empty spaces behind.
Hopefully, this will be the end of their summer of cut and paste. These have been heady days, ONN, but like all shortcuts, they can't last forever.