Former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter calls out podcasters

An award-winning 2003 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette four-part series on the murder of a Greenbrier teenager in 2002 is back in the national spotlight, and the dust-up threatens the standing of the nation's No. 1 podcast, Crime Junkie.

On Aug. 15, former Democrat-Gazette reporter Cathy Frye, the author of the copyrighted series, wrote in a lengthy post to Crime Junkie's Facebook page that creator and host Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat plagiarized her work when they used it as a source for its March episode of the podcast.

Crime Junkie has risen to the top of Apple's Podcast chart, attracting listeners who can't get enough of true crime stories. Flowers and Prawat dish about a different case each episode, attracting a largely female audience. The two have taken quick advantage of the spotlight with personal appearances and merchandise, but it remains to be seen whether the brouhaha will affect its popularity. Multiple Facebook commenters replied to Frye's post that they had unsubscribed to the podcast and canceled their payments on the Patreon app and website, which allows fans to send money — usually small amounts — to podcasters as a form of support.

According to Variety, Crime Junkie has 43,500 Patreon supporters.

In the Facebook post, Frye wrote: "You relied on my series about Kacie Woody to air your podcast, which, I would assume, profits by the sharing of crime stories. At one point, you quoted a portion of MY copyrighted story almost verbatim. I then started listening to your other podcasts and — SURPRISE! — discovered that you don't cite sources or credit news organizations. You said in one of your podcasts that you share these stories in order to reignite interest in old cases. Bull****. Kacie's murder was solved. Her killer is dead. What you did was simply gratuitous. It served no purpose whatsoever except to serve as 'entertainment' for your audience and as a moneymaker for your podcasts."

Frye's series on the 2002 abduction and murder of 13-year-old Kacie Woody put the crime on the national radar. In 2004, Frye won the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, which came with a $10,000 check. Back in Arkansas after the ceremony, Frye got a call from actress Kate Capshaw, who is married to director Steven Spielberg. The director bought the movie rights to the Kacie Woody story for $10,000 but has never made the film.

The post had more than 500 comments as of Friday, with most supporting Frye. The few dissenters argued that the podcasters are simply telling stories and that they aren't trying to be journalists, who are trained to attribute information to sources.

"Journalists follow a strict code of ethics. We ALWAYS cite our sources or share where our information came from. You, on the other hand, are just making money off of the victims of crime and tragedy," Frye wrote.

There was no response from the podcasters for four days.

The online Podcast Business Journal was the first to publish an article about the post on Thursday.

Friday morning, Variety reported on its website that Flowers had sent the magazine a statement: "We recently made the decision to pull down several episodes from our main feed when their source material could no longer be found or properly cited. Since then, we've worked to put additional controls in place to address any gaps moving forward. Our work would not be possible absent the incredible efforts of countless individuals who investigate and report these stories originally, and they deserve to be credited as such. We are committed to working within the burgeoning podcast industry to develop and evolve its standard on these kinds of issues."

Turns out Frye may not be the first person to accuse Crime Junkie of lifting material. The Variety report said that Robin Warder, host of a true-crime podcast titled The Trail Went Cold, wrote about another death on Reddit in 2015. She told the magazine that in a May 2018 Crime Junkie episode, "Ashley Flowers is practically reading [from the Reddit post] verbatim without credit."

Variety also reported that another listener posted on Reddit in June that an episode about a missing Oklahoma girl was almost a "word for word copy" of a 2018 episode of an Investigation Discovery TV show about the case.

The magazine says Crime Junkie has taken five episodes down from its website so far.

Is that enough for Frye? "Yes, I'm glad the Crime Junkie podcasters took down not only the episode in which they neglected to credit me or the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, but also other episodes that might be challenged by podcasters and newspaper or broadcast journalists.

"I feel some sense of validation after learning that other people came forward with accusations identical to mine. Do I feel vindicated? No. In a statement issued days after I made my allegations public, and only under duress, the Crime Junkie podcasters did not apologize or acknowledge that they haven't been citing sources or crediting journalists or their fellow podcasters. Instead, they claimed that their 'source material' could no longer be found, contending that this is why they were suddenly — and in secrecy — deleting episodes from their website. Their 'explanation' is clearly untrue, as my series remains on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's website and was published in a book by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. I mean, this pair of podcasters clearly had no problem finding my series when they decided to steal from it.

"They might be more careful in the near future, at least until the storm dies down. Have they learned anything from any of this? Highly unlikely."

David Bailey, managing editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, said the paper is satisfied that the episode had been removed and no further action is planned.

"I'm glad Cathy prevailed. She's immensely talented and deserves respect for the work she has produced," Bailey said.

Style on 08/20/2019