It looks like Crime Junkie's time at the top of the podcast charts is over for now, but don't count it out, even though its credibility has been called into question with recent allegations of plagiarism.
Crime Junkie was accused in late August by Cathy Frye, a former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter whose award-winning 2003 stories on the murder of 13-year-old Kacie Woody were used without acknowledging Frye or the newspaper in a March episode of the true crime podcast. Frye gave the hosts a public tongue-lashing of epic proportions on the show's Facebook page, setting off a barrage of negative stories and Facebook posts about the podcast.
Days after Frye's accusation, Ashley Flowers, host and creator of the podcast, released a statement via Variety that said the episode and others had been taken down, citing sources that could no longer be found; the statement did not acknowledge Frye or the episode in question.
Then on Aug. 19, Frye reported that Crime Junkie had returned the Kacie Woody episode to its lineup, but this time with episode notes that include links to credits, including one for Frye and the Democrat-Gazette.
That did not satisfy Frye or, apparently, attorneys for the Democrat-Gazette. On Thursday, Alec Gaines, an attorney representing the newspaper for the Williams & Anderson law firm, sent a cease-and-desist letter to Flowers. Flowers is the registered agent for the company that produces the podcast, Audio Chuck, LLC.
Gaines wrote in the letter that producers have until Sept. 12 to edit the podcast to include verbal attribution crediting Frye and the Democrat-Gazette, or to remove the podcast from its lineup entirely. The paper will pursue a copyright infringement lawsuit if the letter is ignored, the letter said.
An emailed request for comment from Flowers was not answered by press time.
It remains to be seen whether the podcast industry will make changes or attempt to police itself after this brouhaha, but the stage has been set for better standards.
As August ended, the embattled podcast hosted by Flowers and Brit Prawat was situated at No. 5 on Apple's chart behind No. 4 The Killing of Marilyn Monroe; No. 3 The Joe Rogan Experience; No. 2 The Clearing; and the new No. 1, 1619, a New York Times production on the beginning of the slave trade in America. On the Stitcher chart, Crime Junkie was No. 9.
The Podcast Business Journal, a print and online magazine, posed this question in a headline for its Wednesday online edition. "Is Podcasting Getting a Black Eye from Plagiarism?" The Journal enlisted some heavy-hitters in the industry to answer, including Rob Walch, vice president of podcaster relations at Libsyn, the podcast publishing platform.
"Just putting a link in the show notes is not enough when it comes to attribution. You need to verbally mention sources in the episodes and then say where links to those sources can be found. There are just a small number of podcasts being called out on this now," Walch told the Journal.
There's been no damage, apparently, to ticket sales for the forthcoming Crime Junkie live shows, which begin Sept. 13 in Phoenix. Just seven shows out of 15 scheduled have tickets available. Were the tickets already gone before the plagiarism allegations? Who knows.
Meanwhile, insideradio.com's Podcast News Daily reported Monday that an alternative to Crime Junkie is moving up the charts. Sure enough, Today in True Crime from Parcast network was sitting at No. 9 on the Apple chart.
In a blurb on the Vulture website, Rebecca Lavoi writes that Parcast is "best known for shows that dig deep -- historically speaking -- into topics ranging from serial killers to cults to unsolved murders. Today in True Crime publishes daily, with 20-ish-minute episodes that delve into a story pegged to that day in history, whether it's the conclusion of a sensational trial, the arrest of a cold-case suspect, or a serial killer's birthday. And best of all, it's not all murder and mayhem, as Wednesday's episode, 'Mona Lisa Stolen,' demonstrates."
(See what I just did? That's protected by the Fair Use Doctrine. But, as a journalist I know to use attribution, giving my sources their proper due, and to limit the content from outside sources when it's available to find elsewhere through research. That's something that podcasters like Flowers and Prawat need to learn in order to avoid future confrontations with respected journalists and news organizations.)
Style on 09/03/2019