In an investigative report, BuzzFeed News uncovered that Snopes co-founder David Mikkelson wrote numerous articles with plagiarized material, both under his own name and the pseudonym Jeff Zarronandia. The site’s VP of Editorial and Managing Editor, Doreen Marchionni, suspended the co-founder from editorial duties as the site launches a “comprehensive internal investigation.” But, according to BuzzFeed News, he “remains an officer and a 50% shareholder of the company.”
Marchionni and Snopes Chief Operating Office Vinny Green told the publication that, from their internal research, they found 54 articles including plagiarized content, featuring copied and unattributed work from major publications such as The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, and the BBC. According to the report, “six of these articles were originally published under Zarronandia’s byline, three under Mikkelson’s own, and the rest under ‘Snopes Staff.’”
Snopes’ former managing editor, Brooke Binkowski, told BuzzFeed News that Mikkelson made a regular habit of the practice, for reasons of both speed and search engine optimization. She adds, “He would instruct us to copy text from other sites, post them verbatim so that it looked like we were fast and could scoop up traffic, and then change the story in real time. I hated it and wouldn’t tell any of the staff to do it, but he did it all the time.”
The site initially served as a fact-checking publication, where urban myths could be debunked. But as the site’s popularity grew, it began including news items. (Later, the site would parlay its reputation as fact checkers into a multi-year partnership with Facebook.) Some of those news stories were plagiarized by Mikkelson. BuzzFeed News reports that Mikkelson’s first post under his pseudonym was plagiarized nearly entirely, with the exception of some word changes from a Reuters news article about Kim Davis, the Kentucky county clerk who made headlines in 2015 for defying the U.S. Supreme Court and refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses. Other examples of the co-founder’s plagiarism include the obituary of David Bowie, which Frankensteined together paragraphs from E! and The LA Times.
Now, when you go to the link of the Bowie story, the text reads:
The post was retracted because some or all of its content was taken from other sources without proper attribution.
Read the original reporting behind the headline:
The retracted article is available on archive.is by searching for the page url.
Mikkelson spoke to BuzzFeed News for the report, offering an apology and attempting to explain the plagiarism by citing ignorance. “I didn’t come from a journalism background,” he says. “I wasn’t used to doing news aggregation. A number of times I crossed the line to where it was copyright infringement. I own that,” he states. He also clarifies that he wrote under the pseudonym to avoid personal targeting from trolls, not knowing that it’d be considered unethical to do so. “It was kind of a stress-relief thing [after] spending 20 years seeing people trying to discredit our work by just making stuff up about us,” he notes. “Let’s have some fun and watch these people vent their spleen inventing reasons why this nonexistent persona is biased.”