January 29, 2013

That’s why they call it a trend


Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook and recently minted (he bought it) publisher of The New Republic, made headlines this weekend when he introduced TNR’s redesign.

Now sporting a revamped website with “cross device synching” capabilities that provide readers with the option to start reading an article on the web, continue reading on a phone, and finish reading it on a tablet, TNR is hoping the right amount of digital acumen and journalism smarts will shoot them forward in today’s competitive media marketplace.

The new site looks great on a web browser and mobile, and I suspect someone like Hughes will ensure the ninety-nine year-old magazine continues to perform well across the ever-evolving digital spectrum. I say this despite the interview he did with the Times yesterday, in which he emphasized that TNR is different from its competitors because it is focused on really paying attention to readers’ behavior, as well as solving such great mysteries as gaining more pageviews and unique visitors. Also, in what surely demonstrates the magazine’s modern-day approach, Hughes said articles would have to employ a bit more “edge” when reporting big stories.

We don’t want The New Republic to feel like homework, you know? It’s got to be something you want to pick up. [The story is …] about an important and timely topic, but it’s engaging and invites you in.

Fine and good. But as any reader knows, nothing invites you in like a scandal. And as was reported on Romenesko’s blog yesterday, The New Republic, pioneer of the new school, is facing a decidedly old-school complaint: plagiarism.

It seems a recent TNR article by Ann Friedman bore substantial similarities to an article Ben Yagoda published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

From Romenesko:

From BEN YAGODA: The new-look New Republic may be cool and rich and everything, but the extent to which its piece (posted yesterday) about the resurgence of the word “lady”borrowed (that is the polite word) from the piece Maria Yagoda and I wrote on the same subject for the Chronicle of Higher Education, posted 11/29, was way out of line.

In addition to the topic itself (not insignificant), TNR’s piece had virtually the same title, made most of the same points, and, most shockingly of all, started off with the same embedded clip from HBO’s “Girls” that we started off with.

See for yourself:

Our piece, “Hey, ‘Lady’!”.

Their piece, “Hey ‘Ladies’” (omitting the comma actually makes the title worse).

Ben Yagoda

I’ve asked “Hey Ladies” author Ann Friedman and The New Republic to respond.

UPDATE: New Republic editor FRANKLIN FOER writes: “When we titled Ann Friedman’s piece ‘Hey, Ladies,’ we were name checking a song by the Beastie Boys. We hadn’t seen Ben Yagoda’s piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. If we both arrived at the same subject independently, well, that’s why they call it a trend.”

Okay, maybe it’s not exactly plagiarism that’s going on here. Maybe it’s merely a case of one magazine writing about a topic that’s timely, while another magazine has written about the same topic as well. Happens all the time. But for a new publisher trying to boost a historic and revered publication forward, it can’t be welcomed news. One thing is for sure, though, and that’s an uptick in unique visitors for The New Republic. Whether those readers come back is another story.



Kevin Murphy is the digital media marketing manager of Melville House.