When I learned some of the fabricated segments of my “Ham Hate Crime” article had been presented across the country by Fox & Friends as fact, I had just as many questions as everyone else.
I had no idea how anyone outside of Associated Content (AC) could have found the article. I also couldn’t figure out why anyone, especially a major television network, would be using anything written by a 24-year-old biology major with no journalism background as a source.
I’d been writing for Associated Content since September. Until mid-March, when an offer for one of my articles came back with a message suggesting I start submitting my articles as news — for quicker publication and the standard $5 fee — I had always submitted my content as humor.
Although $5 was less than what I was receiving for a piece, timely publishing under the news category seemed like a fair trade, since I preferred more people reading my work and enjoying a laugh than making an extra buck.
At first, I wrote about anything, like my satirical “MySpace Dating Guide.”
After I started a new job, though, I wasn’t devoting as much time to writing about random topics; that’s when I realized making fun of absurd news stories would provide me with an endless supply of material.
Stories about fifth-graders having sex in class. The state of Virginia apologizing to blacks for slavery. The ham incident. I presented these stories in a manner befitting the inanity, I believed, was showed by those involved.
My goal was not presenting the news; people looking for news are going to traditional sources. I was mainly trying to entertain by making it humorous. Since my audience was usually only few hundred readers, I guess it didn’t matter when the occasional one wouldn’t understand it was meant to be funny.
As I understood it, news on Associated Content was another category, like Health or Business; I never knew they were distributing my work across the Internet, and I certainly never heard of the “Google news feed.”
I had tried to find out about distribution, but the only thing I ever came across was “AC content is not for sale.” In fact, it was AC that suggested I submit articles as news, even though I never had previously.
Although it’s noble of AC to give wannabe writers a chance to get their material out there, has it really come to the point where the largest television networks in the world are getting their information from these types of sources?
What happened in this case isn’t that simple.
In numerous Google searches after the Fox & Friends airing, I noticed dozens of Web sites were displaying my article, many without attaching my name. When the Fox host said he had checked the story on a couple of different sites, he must have been referring to having found my article in several different locations.
Another problem was citing the Associated Press. I did so because it was one source of the story. The other source I cited was a Web site that had copied the original Sun Journal article. I didn’t conjure this incident out of thin air, so, of course, I cited where I’d gotten my information.
If listing AP at the bottom meant every word of my story came from the AP, wouldn’t this mean I had re-written someone else’s article?
As the situation escalated, I got a lot of support, especially from people in Maine, who I thank for not jumping on the “let’s blame Plagman!” bandwagon. Although AC took down my articles, I informed them of 12 other pieces (out of more than 150) that needed re-categorization. About four days later they were back.
The only thing that’s bothered me were AC’s actions. They seemed to have panicked, in fear of liability and those who claimed I made the whole story up.
After my articles reappeared, AC forums filled with bitterness and rumors, which really bothered me. Among the hearsay was I was making a fortune in page views — money I will never see, because AC has removed me, and is keeping my bonus under the pretense that I deliberately filed my story as news to create controversy.
I was banned from AC, due to pressure from other angry writers convinced was of my “intentional abuse of the system to make money,” and for “compromising the integrity of AC.”
I don’t see how removing me, now that I know how the system works, will give AC back their reputation from the millions who’d never heard of it before my mistake.
If I could do it again, would I still write the article? Absolutely.
I made an innocent mistake in trusting AC and submitting the article as news. In hindsight, I should have submitted it as humor. I was naïve regarding AC’s role as a “news source,” which I find odd considering their “news” comes from writers who get their news from actual news organizations.
But because of what resulted, does this make it a reprehensible act for which there is no forgiveness?
I never expected any of this, but it was nice having people notice my work, even if it was short-lived. My articles don’t have a large audience, but those that do come across them appreciate the humor, and recognize the potential.
Yet there are still those who choose to find offense rather than laugh, and that’s unfortunate.
Nicholas Plagman, of Atlanta, Ga., authored a satirical piece about the Lewiston Middle School ham incident on April 26.
My goal was not presenting the news; people looking for news are going to traditional sources. I was mainly trying to entertain by making it humorous.

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