“But Honestly Monica”: Cooks Source Burns Itself


Want a recipe for how to burn your brand in the Internet oven and become an online celebrity in the bargain?

Consider Cooks Source, a small but previously well respected cooking magazine that recently managed to make a blogosphere tempest out of what should have been a simple pot of tea. 

The small online-and-print magazine, based in Massachusetts, ran a historical piece called “American as Apple Pie – Isn’t!” The story, penned by writer Monica Gaudio and originally published in 2005 under the title “A Tale of Two Tarts” by Godecookery.com, was used without Gaudio’s knowledge or permission, according to her blog. After a friend congratulated her on the story appearing in Cooks Source, Gaudio contacted editor Judith Griggs and ultimately asked for an apology on Facebook, a printed apology in the magazine and a $130 donation to the Columbia School of Journalism. [more]

A sample of Griggs’ response:

“But honestly Monica, the web is considered ‘public domain’ and you should be happy we just didn’t ‘lift’ your whole article and put someone else’s name on it! It happens a lot, clearly more than you are aware of, especially on college campuses, and the workplace. If you took offence and are unhappy, I am sorry, but you as a professional should know that the article we used written by you was in very bad need of editing, and is much better now than was originally. Now it will work well for your portfolio. For that reason, I have a bit of a difficult time with your requests for monetary gain, albeit for such a fine (and very wealthy!) institution. We put some time into rewrites, you should compensate me!”

Ick and LMAO at the same time, no? When other bloggers got hold of the story, it heated up in the convection oven of indignation – indignation at the plagiarism, of course, but mainly at Griggs’ arrogant, condescending response. Readers whipped up a ceiling-high soufflé of invective on the magazine’s website and Facebook page. Bon appétit, Judith! 

Not content to leave well enough alone, Griggs posted on the magazine’s Facebook page:

“Hi Folks!

Well, here I am with egg on my face! I did apologise 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”

Really? With such haughty replies it’s no surprise that Griggs is being roasted alive, with the Cooks Source Facebook page completely hijacked by readers venting their ire and entertaining themselves at Griggs’ expense. A second Cooks Source Facebook page that cropped up received the same treatment, with Griggs’ “But honestly Monica” line mocked in posts like this: “But honestly, Monica, I have your royalties ready to go … the monies are being held in a Nigerian bank. All you have to do to get the money is …”

The magazine’s reputation has gone down the drain with the table scraps. Users have been scraping Cooks Source for other examples of allegedly plagiarized material, and the website has been reduced to nothing but a “Contact Us” page. A spoof video equating Cooks Source editors to Nazis has been posted on YouTube and the legal department of the Food Network is reportedly investigating

Leaving aside the copyright concerns, the story is stuffed with takeaways for online brand management:

Anything you say – or post or email – on behalf of your brand can and will be used against the brand in the court of public opinion. 

If you have made a mistake − or if your public thinks you have − own up to it, apologize and bend over backwards to make it right. 

Once you have addressed the issue, shut up already. Continuing to engage in a negative exchange in an attempt to prove yourself right is a losing battle.

There is no divide between the online and “real” worlds. Your print publication (or bricks-and-mortar store, or whatever) can suffer the wrath you engendered online. 

Finally, arrogance begets Internet memes (just ask Columbia writing professor Janette Turner Hospital), and guess what? Everyone lives online. Which means everyone is laughing at you. 

But honestly, Judith, I’m surprised you didn’t know that.