Cooks Source: What should Judith Griggs have done?

It’s barely 24 hours since the Cooks Source/Judith Griggs saga blew up, but so much has happened in that time that I thought it worth reflecting on how other publishers might handle a similar situation.

Although it’s an extreme example, the story has particular relevance to those publications that rely on Facebook or another web presence to publish material online and communicate with readers, and might at some point face a backlash on that platform.

In the case of Cooks Source, their 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). The first question that many publishers looking at this might ask is defensive:

Should you have a Facebook page at all?

It would be easy to take the Cooks Source case as an indication that you shouldn’t have a Facebook page at all – on the basis that it might become hijacked by your critics or enemies. Or that if you do create a page you should do so in a way that does not allow postings to the wall.

The problem with this approach is that it misunderstands the fundamental shift in power between publisher and reader. Just as Monica Gaudio was able to tell the world about Judith’s cavalier attitude to copyright, not having a Facebook page (or blog, etc.) for your publication doesn’t prevent one existing at all.

In fact, if you don’t set up a space where your readers can communicate with you and each other, it’s likely that they’ll set one up themselves – and that introduces further problems.

If you don’t have a presence online, someone else will create a fake one to attack you with

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. (UPDATE: Someone has registered and pointed it at the Wikipedia entry for ‘public domain’, while a further Cooks Source Facebook page has been set up claiming that the original was “hacked”)

These were used in various ways: to make information available (the Twitter account biography featured Judith’s phone number and email); to satirise Judith’s actions through mock-updates; and to tease easily-annoyed Facebook posters into angry responses.

Some people’s responses on Facebook to the ‘fake’ Judith suggested they did not realise that she was not the real thing, which leads to the next point.

A passive presence isn’t enough – be active

Judith obviously did have a Facebook account, but it was her slowness to respond to the critics that allowed others to impersonate her.

Indeed, it was several hours before Judith Griggs made any response on the Facebook page, and when she did (assuming it is genuine – see comments below) it was through the page’s welcoming message – in other words, it was a broadcast.

This might be understandable given the unmanageable volume of comments that had been posted by this time – but her message was also therefore easily missed in the depths of the conversation, and it meant that the ‘fake’ Judith was able to continue to impersonate her in responses to those messages.

One way to focus her actions in a meaningful way might have been to do a ‘Find’ on “Griggs” and respond there to clarify that this person was an imposter.

Instead, by being passive Judith created a vacuum. The activity that filled that vacuum led in all directions, including investigating the magazine more broadly and contacting advertisers and stockists.

Climb down quickly and unreservedly

While being passive can create a vacuum, being active can – if not done in a considered way – also simply add fuel to the fire.

The message that Judith eventually posted did just that. “I did apologise to Monica via email, but aparently [sic] it wasnt enough for her,” she wrote, before saying “You did find a way to get your “pound of flesh…””.

This “blaming the victim”, as one wall poster described it, compounded the situation and merely confirmed Judith’s misunderstanding of the anger directed at her.

An apology clearly wasn’t what people wanted – or at least, not this sort of reserved apology.

A quicker, fuller response that demonstrated an understanding of her community would have made an enormous difference in channeling the energy that people poured into what became an increasingly aggressive campaign.

UPDATE (Nov 9): As of a few hours ago Cooks Source appear to have published an official statement which includes a more fullsome apology. The statement doesn’t help, however, partly because it doesn’t address the key issues raised by critics about where it gets content and images from, partly because its sense of priorities doesn’t match those of its audience (the apology comes quite late in the statement), and partly because it is internally inconsistent. Commenters on the Facebook page and blogs have already picked these apart.

There’s also a wonderful ‘corrected’ version of the statement which does an impeccable job of illustrating how they should have phrased it.

Engage with criticism elsewhere

The Cooks Source Facebook page wasn’t the only place where people were gathering to criticise and investigate the magazine. On Reddit hundreds of users collaborated to find other breaches of copyright, put up contact details for the copyright holders, and list advertisers that people could contact. Someone also created a Wikipedia entry to document Griggs’ instant notoriety.

Even if Judith had shut down the Facebook page (not a good idea – it would have merely added further fuel to the fire), the discussion – which had now become a campaign and investigation – was taking place elsewhere. Engaging in that in a positive way might have helped.

A magazine is not just content

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. When I asked one of Cooks Source’s advertisers why they decided to withdraw their support, this is what they said:

“I would estimate that between the emails, [Facebook] messages, calls, and people following us on Twitter, we’ve been contacted by more than 100 people since I first heard of this about 5 hours ago. That doesn’t include many many people who commented on fb to our posts stating that we had requested to pull our ads from the publication. We are just simply trying to run our small business, which by most standards is still in its infancy, and being associated with publications like this that don’t respect its readers (who are all our potential customers) is unacceptable to us in light of their practices. What angers me even more is the fact that it is being made light if by the Editor herself. It is disrupting our business and linking us to something we do not support.”

Postscript: How it unfolded, piece by piece

Kathy E Gill has a wonderfully detailed timeline of how the story broke and developed which offers further lessons in how a situation like this develops.


27 thoughts on “Cooks Source: What should Judith Griggs have done?

  1. Martin W

    I hadn’t seen her Facebook response. Makes me think that this isn’t a problem of misunderstanding the medium or not knowing how to respond appropriately in a social media context – it’s a problem of being a bit of an asshat in the first place. Unfortunately that means there’s a limit to the lessons we can draw from the case since she’s just acting in bad faith, rather than trying to get it right and making instructive mistakes.

    In short, to meme a little meme:

  2. DRF

    I think this contains a lot of practical information, but there should be an acknowledgment earlier on that what Griggs and Cook’s Source did was WRONG. Otherwise, this article sounds like it’s defending Griggs.

    Also, in American English, periods and commas get tucked inside the quotation marks: “blaming the victim,” “‘pound of flesh.'”

  3. Journopig

    Surely it’s obvious that what Judith did was wrong? I don’t get the impression that OJB is saying otherwise, but what it IS doing is trying to stick to facts and objective reporting, which is fair enough!

    And why should this site use American English? It’s UK-based.

  4. Nora

    What Ms. Griggs has been doing for some time re her publication is clearly wrong, and she absolutely should be held accountable. However, the larger story, IMO, is the maelstrom of reaction that followed.

    As a phenomenon, I find it frightening and actually detrimental to publishing overall. I’m not a big fan of all this “social networking” (it all comes off as more anti-social than otherwise, IMO) to begin with and here, along with some of the more tragic teen cyberbullying incidents we’ve seen recently, we have a clear example of just how badly these FB pages and Twitter accounts can backfire.

    Yes, hold Ms. Griggs accountable, encourage the offended parties to order her to cease and desist, but egging on this harassment and bullying by uninvolved third, fourth, fifth, ad infinitum, parties is cruel and stupid and immature and just plain wrong.

    Is Ms. Griggs arrogant? Was her alleged email response to the original offended party completely inappropriate, unprofessional and legally incorrect? Yep. Should she be prevented from continuing her business practices? Absolutely. But to personally harass her and to gleefully hope she’ll be hounded to the ends of the earth, made bankrupt, and thrown out of her home and forced to live on the street is beyond petty and mean and cold.

    That the internet hatefest this situation spawned occurred so quickly should cause publishers and writers alike to take a step back and reconsider their involvement with these social networking sites. Anyone can accuse anyone else of anything on the internet, enlist their FB, livejournal, Twitter, Blogspot, etc., “friends”, and unleash a similar firestorm of retaliation. One day someone will be wrongly accused, however, and the damage done to someone’s livelihood will be as actionable as someone violating copyright law. Something to consider.

  5. Paul Bradshaw

    I don’t think the publisher’s involvement with social networking sites would make a difference here. If no Facebook page existed someone would have set up an even more offensive site saying ‘Judith Griggs is an X’. I guess my point is that engaging with your critics is better than the alternative that you describe.

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  7. Ruth Seeley

    I wouldn’t know where to begin listing where Cooks Source went wrong – the entire editorial premise of the publication is flawed since it’s built on a faulty understanding of what copyright is. With a background in issues and crisis management, I sometimes worry my approach to PR has me sounding a bit like Chicken Little, because I NEVER have a conversation with a new or potential client that doesn’t include a case study on what can go wrong if you don’t understand how both mainstream and social media work and how very important it is to understand the individual medium’s unwritten ‘user laws.’ I find it hard to believe the responses on the Facebook page are actually from Judith Griggs – the link to the Cooks Source FB group has been disabled on the web site as of 7PM MDT November 5, 2010. Surely someone who’s now antagonized The Food Network, Martha Stewart AND NPR (not to mention attracted the attention of ALL their in-house and retainer legal counsel) couldn’t possibly be so blase?

    1. Paul Bradshaw

      The responses on the wall are from a fake Judith Griggs. However, the message at the top of the page would have to have been written by someone with admin access to the Cooks Source Facebook page. It’s possible that someone might have hacked into it but I don’t see enough evidence to suggest that that has indeed happened (if so a) they would have been more malevolent; b) Judith Griggs could have easily had the page shut down; and c) a statement to that effect might have been posted on the official website, rather than just disabling the link) – the message posted is very much in the character of her previous communication.

      Just to complicate things further there’s another Facebook page which claims it is a replacement because the original was ‘hacked’ – the link in the post above on that word goes to a discussion about how believable this is. I’m inclined to think this second Facebook page is a hoax.

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  9. brady

    This whole thing could have been avoided if she had just replied in a polite and professional way. Instead she was very rude and had a I can do whatever to kind of attitude. I really don’t think people care that much about the plagiarism and yes i think people would be happy to have there article in a magazine and would have looked the other way. she shot herself in the foot plain and simple. The internet hates bully’s.

  10. Chainsaw

    What she was doing wasn’t so much WRONG as it was CRIMINAL. I think the entire “hatefest” would not have existed, or needed to exist, if it were clear from the beginning that she was going to be subject to the same sort of legal punishment meted out to people prosecuted by the RIAA, multiplied by the number of copyrighted items she stole. An apology simply isn’t enough to get you off scot-free from being a career thief.

  11. Isabella

    It is Griggs who is the bully here. Writers, at least of this sort of content, are paid squat to begin with, and then people like Griggs try to deprive them of even that.

    The asked-for apologies and the $130 (to go to an educational program at that) would have been a small price to pay to make things right—and go away. The area of copyright is not the only one of which Griggs is ignorant.

    I have zero sympathy for Griggs, and since it’s turned out that she also plagiarized NPR, Food Network and Martha Stewart (among others, for both copy and images), may she and Cooks Source be sued into oblivions.

  12. Raven

    What should Judith Griggs have done?

    Respect copyright in the first place. Not only Monica Gaudio’s, but also all the other authors’ and artists’ whose work she took without permission or payment on the spurious grounds that the entire Web is “public domain”.

    (No, Laura, this isn’t a hoax. The list of stolen items has hit 160 so far, and people are still looking through the magazine. Other affected authors besides Ms Gaudio have spoken out on the record, in major news media.)

    On a smaller, shorter-term basis, Ms Griggs might have avoided getting caught for a while longer if she’d simply given Ms Gaudio the requested polite apology and the nominal $130 donation to the CSJ, in lieu of a reprint fee. I suspect by now she regrets not doing so.

    But after having been exposed as stealing from Martha Stewart, Food Network, and Disney (*never* mess with the Mouse!), I suspect no amount of public relations work can salvage Ms Griggs’s business any longer. Who would want to advertise with her now? A mouse-eared shadow of Doom towers over her….

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  15. Abbi

    You missed Judith’s most critical mistake. She has absolutely no idea how social media and the internet works. She has no idea how to close commenting on her FB wall(s). She calls unfriendly commenters “hackers”. She claimed she was “reporting” these hackers (by linking to some PDF on hacking from 1998?). She claimed in her apology that she was closing her FB pages. So far, on November 11th, this has not been the case. She just looks like an idiot from another generation who simply has no idea how Facebook and the internet works.

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