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A screenshot from Medium's post. (Credit: Medium, screenshot)

The Atlantic senior editor Alexis Madrigal wondered if San Francisco-based media website Medium stole a story from the website for NYC-based magazine The Week or if it was an example of bad aggregating.

iMediaEthics took a look at the two stories after seeing Madrigal’s tweet. In our opinion, Medium‘s post barely re-writes and definitely over-aggregates The Week‘s post.

Medium did sort of indicate to readers that The Week inspired the post with a note at the bottom of its post saying “(via The Week)” but in iMediaEthics’ opinion, it wasn’t nearly sufficient.  Readers of Medium‘s post wouldn’t know from that tiny hat tip that Medium didn’t just get the idea for the post from The Week but actually took the entire post from the magazine. The Week‘s June 27 post was 681words and Medium‘s August 14 was 220 words.

Below, we highlighted some sections of the two posts to show how similar they are.

The Week‘s headline was “4 changes to English so subtle we hardly notice they’re happening” whereas Medium went for a simple: “How English is Changing.”  Medium took the four points raised by The Week and barely re-wrote them. While it’s not really a straight up copy and paste job, the words and phrasing are similar. We used different colored highlighting to point similar areas Medium‘s post is to The Week. Compare red with red, and green with green and so on.

For example, from The Week‘s original post:

“SHIFT FROM “THEY STARTED TO WALK” TO “THEY STARTED WALKING”
“There are a number of verbs that can take a complement with another verb in either the “-ing” form or the “to” form: “They liked painting/to paint;” “We tried leaving/to leave;” “He didn’t bother calling/to call.” Both of these constructions are still used, and they have both been used for a long time. But there has been a steady shift over time from the “to” to the “-ing” complement. “Start” and “begin” saw a big increase in the “-ing” complement until leveling out in the 1940s, whiles emotion verbs like “like,” “love,” “hate,” and “fear” saw their proportion of “-ing” complements start to rise in the 1950s and 60s. Not all verbs have participated in the shift: “stand,” “intend,” and “cease” went the “to” way.”

And from Medium:

“They started to walk” is turning into “they started walking:”
Verbs are steadily transitioning from the “to” to the “-ing” ending. Before the forties, “start” and “begin” saw a big increase in the “-ing” form, while in the fifties and sixties, verbs such as “like,” “love,” “hate,” and “fear” underwent the same rise in popularity. On the other hand, verbs like “stand,” “intend,” and “cease” shifted more toward the “to” form.”

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For one more example:

From The Week:

“3. GOING TO, HAVE TO, NEED TO, WANT TO
It’s pretty noticeable that words like “shall” and “ought” are on the way out, but “will,” “should,” and “can” are doing just fine. There are other members of this helping verb club though, and they have been on a steep climb this century. “Going to,” “have to,” “need to,” and “want to” cover some of the same meaning territory as the other modal verbs. They first took hold in casual speech and have enjoyed a big increase in print in recent decades.”

And from Medium:

“Going to,” “have to,” “need to,” and “want to: Helping verbs such as these have surged in the past few decades. First used in casual conversation, this verb group eventually entered print, which contributed to its rise.”

When iMediaEthics checked Medium’s website around 3:35 PM, the story in question was suddenly missing and the link went to an error page. See below our screenshot of the post

iMediaEthics asked Okrent if she had any comment on Medium’s handling of her story and if she thought it was an acceptable aggregation. Okrent responded via email:  “Yeah, I definitely wouldn’t have done it like that. I appreciate the catch.”

We’ve also reached out to Medium for comment. We’ll update with any response.

UPDATE: 8/14/2013 3:50 PM EST: Added a screenshot of the post.

UPDATE: 8/14/2013 5:00 PM EST: Added info about Medium and The Week

UPDATE: 8/14/2013 9:13 PM EST: Added response from Okrent.

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Did Medium ‘(Over)Aggregate’ or Plagiarize The Week? Atlantic Editor Points out Aggregation Issues

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