Many podcast genres (especially those of true crime, history and politics) rely heavily on the hosts reading out stories that have been gathered from other sources. While some work to be as ethical as possible, properly attributing their content and pulling from appropriate sources, an increasingly visible portion fall to blatant rereads with inadequate citing or even none at all.
Podcasting is such a new form of media that many emerging questions about best practices are only just starting to be answered. Disclosure statements, proper sourcing/attribution and formally issued corrections are at the top of that list.
One of the most notable examples of partial or absent crediting, “Crime Junkie,” has been receiving substantial attention in the news lately following Arkansas journalist Cathy Fyre’s accusation of plagiarism in many episodes.
Not only is her work heavily summarized by the podcast’s hosts, but some of it is read out loud without any indication that it belongs to anyone other than Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat, co-hosts.
“I spent months working on that series,” Fyre wrote, addressing the hosts directly and identifying the content they stole as being from her work, Caught in the Web. “The information you used in your podcast comes ONLY from my series. No other media had access to the details that I did. Nor did they get the interviews that I did.”
Fyre also made a point of writing that she thinks the podcast’s casual approach to their subject means that they impact not only the journalists whose work has been appropriated, but those they have written about and their families.
The frequency of many journalists and other content source’s uncredited material on the podcast in addition to Fyre’s work has led to the removal of several episodes, with the potential for more to be taken down in the future. According to Variety, Crime Junkie’s hosts will have earned more than $1 million by the end of this year between its ad revenue and profits coming in from their fans. This much profit makes the question of who is really doing the work particularly important.
Another example comes from comedian Dave Anthony’s alleged plagiarism of a 2013 article by journalist and national editor of Slate Josh Levin four years later. Levin’s article, a piece on historical figure Linda Taylor, was the main source of content for a live showing of Anthony’s podcast “The Dollop,” according to Levin’s own Twitter thread on the incident.
“Anthony rearranged the material I’d written, and they also added riffs/jokes. But everything in Anthony’s script … came from my article, either verbatim or slightly rewritten,” Levin wrote. “The Dollop,” while not quite as profitable as “Crime Junkie,” is still successful in its own right with both advertisements and Patreon subscribers creating monthly earnings.
Do the shows deserve to lose their stellar ratings in the wake of these issues?
Even the chart-topping true crime (and comedy) series “My Favorite Murder” dealt with this in its early episodes. Unlike many of their peers, however, hosts Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark made an immediate effort to correct the oversight. The change was enough for Walter “Skip” Hollandsworth — a crime reporter out of east Texas whose work is often featured on the show — to be comfortable appearing as a guest during a live show early in September.
Other similar podcasts such as “Last Podcast on the Left” and others have also received similar allegations at one point or another.
Considering that most writers are happy with even the briefest of acknowledgements when their work is used, the lack of sourcing in these shows is all the more problematic. The fact of the matter is that journalists and other content creators are doing the lion’s share of the work for many of these productions while the hosts are the ones profiting. A growing number of podcasts have become nothing more than 45 to 90 minutes of casual story telling based on plagiarized material. Let credit be given where credit is due.
As this issue develops, the impact it has on these genres and even the medium in general will be interesting to see. What is being in your 20s in the year 2019, after all, if not drinking coffee and listening to podcasts.