Imagine her surprise when News Tribune food critic Sue Kidd read a review of a Tacoma restaurant on Facebook that sounded almost word-for-word like one she had written.
Kidd was scrolling through the TNT Diner Facebook page a week ago and noticed that owners of AmeRAWcan Bistro had posted a link on their Facebook page to a review by a website called fastestway-2loseweight.com. Bistro owner Darrin Londin said in his post that he found the review while searching his restaurant name online, glanced quickly at it and posted it for his followers to see.
Kidd’s August review of AmeRAWcan Bistro started like this: “Defining the raw diet depends upon the eater, much like the wide spectrum of vegetarian or vegan eating. The raw diet can shrink or expand, it can be a full-time or part-time, it can include meat, or not.”
The fastestway’s September review started like this: “Defining the tender diet depends on the eater, sufficient similar to the far-reaching spectrum of vegetarian or vegan eating. The tender diet can contract or expand, it may be a full-time or part-time, it can add meat, or not.”
The words in bold (we added for effect) were the only ones different from Kidd’s original words. Each review starts and ends with the same words. Each is six paragraphs long. Kidd’s review is 466 words. The website’s review is 475 words, mainly because it sometimes uses two words where Kidd’s review uses one.
“I recognized right away that it was my August review of AmeRAWcan Bistro,” Kidd said, “but certain words were missing or changed, like a computer had ‘Frankensteined’ the article together.”
News organizations such as ours frequently find versions of our work on other websites. The industry is devising ways to implant “beacons” in our stories to help us find pirated versions across the vast expanses of the Internet. For now, we must do our own policing.
Sometimes our stories appear elsewhere in their entirety without our permission. Sometimes they are rewritten – with or without attribution. Some sites go beyond the professional standard of posting a paragraph or two and linking readers back to our website for the entire story.
Sometimes, as in this case, the sites sell ads next to our stories, profiting from the hours of work our staff spends writing each piece.
This format was new to us. Replacing several words may help a site avoid detection by online tools designed to find exact replications of our work.
This one was so poorly done – apparently without a human touch – the words only marginally made sense. Instead of using the word “cooking,” the article used “in progress.” Instead of identifying the diet as a “raw,” the Frankenstein version called it “tender.”
Kidd called the bistro “a well-designed restaurant.” The Frankenstein version called it a “well-designed grill.”
“That’s pretty funny considering the food served there is raw – as in it’s not cooked,” Kidd said. “I guess that’s why journalists write stories and not computers.”
Kidd contacted London, who deleted the post right away and apologized to her. It’s hard to blame a busy restaurant owner eager to spread good reviews of his place.
Kidd and our online editors searched the weight-loss site for information about how to contact the curators, but found nothing.
On Saturday, I sent an e-mail to “Rich,” the person credited with writing the review. I asked him to contact me so we could discuss the amazing similarities between his review and ours.
So far, no reply.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434