S. Renee Greene, examiner.com freelancer until Thursday, called us Friday to admit she'd plagiarized from New Times, saying she'd done it in protest of the low pay she'd received as a writer for the Examiner website.
Greene reached out to us following our Thursday blog post that called her on clear-cut plagiarism from New Times cover stories. Interspersed in what was apparently original writing, for her examiner.com article Thursday about Jodi Arias, the Valley-based writer had added two paragraphs verbatim from this week's New Times piece on the Arias trial, and her March 11 article borrowed heavily from Monica Alonzo's February 28 article on Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu.
"I threw that in there to see if they are paying attention," Greene told us. "I don't appreciate having to work for four years without pay."
Examiner.com calls itself a "dynamic entertainment, news and lifestyle network that serves more than 20 million monthly readers" in the U.S. and globally. The website is owned by oil and investment billionaire Phillip Anschutz. About 90,000 "examiners" are paid peanuts to write for the site on all sorts of different topics. As we learned yesterday, the freelancers' work isn't subject to any sort of pre-publication review or editing.
Greene explains that she's written about 300 articles over the past four years, making about $200.
"It makes me angry that I'd do all this research, do all this work, then tell me there's not enough page views for them to send me $50 for doing all that work," Greene says. "I said, 'I'm going to throw some slapped-up crap up there, and plagiarize . . .'"
"I wanted to see if anybody is actually reading my articles," she goes on. "[Anschutz] is a billionaire -- he can afford to pay people."
Justin Jimenez, senior director of content for examiner.com, tells us today that all of Greene's articles have been taken down following the publication of Thursday's Valley Fever blog post.
"She's been removed from our site," he says.
Jimenez declined comment about Greene's accusation of exploiting writers.
The subject isn't unknown to examiner.com: A bit of Googling around unearthed several blog articles that discuss the low pay. A page on writersweekly.com displays apparent reviews of the site and its pay structure, which often boils down to about $2 per article or less, not that some people seem to mind. Blogger "Willow" wrote in 2011 that her experience with examiner.com was less than stellar, with the company allegedly playing "super dirty pool" with policies such as stopping payment on all past articles if a writer fails to publish each month.
It could be that Greene is using the pay issue as a lame excuse for an ethical lapse. A cursory glance at some of her previous articles quickly turned up apparent plagiarism from articles in the Arizona Capitol Times and Arizona Republic. No telling how many times it happened.
But Greene insists she plagiarized "not because I'm trying to steal someone's work -- I'm trying to make a statement."
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She's not worried how this affects her writing career: "My concern on that is laid to rest because no one's hiring anyway."
Greene apologized for plagiarizing and says she understands the "seriousness of it." But she's "willing to take the hit."
A prolific user of Twitter for her 17 followers, Greene tweeted today that she "took a political 'hit' to speak out about content mills that don't pay their writers and bloggers decent wages."
"I won't do it again," she tells us.