The Case Against Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson's plagiarism scandal is still unfolding; Brooklyn writer Ed Champion has found instances where the Free author copied material he was supposed to be summarizing. But there was grumbling about Wired's editor long before his book scandal.

Anderson should be given his due for what he's accomplished with Wired. His magazine took home a general excellence prize at the latest National Magazine Awards, along with the prizes for design and best magazine section. It is a favorite of our own readers, and a formidable title.

But Wired is not without its problems, which Anderson is arguably too distracted to fully address. Examples:

Wired.com: A magazine obsessed with technology should have no trouble integrating its print and online editions, but by most accounts the two sides remain deeply divided at Wired, stunting the magazine's online strategy just as print readers increasingly jump online.

Joel Johnson's Boing Boing post is the definitive word on the matter, along with the comments underneath. But there's also history. After Condé Nast acquired Wired.com, Anderson initially ran it as a separate company. He once slammed its interface to bolster the print edition.

And, readership trends be damned, Anderson has made cuts to the online staff, twelve in November and an additional round in April (Condé Nast said only three staff were let go in April, but wouldn't tell us how many freelancers/permalancers/contractors were also cut).

UPDATE: As Anderson points out in an email to us, he does not run Wired.com. But integration is a two-way street, and Anderson at least shares responsibility for friction between the online and print sides, as described in the Johnson thread, and for their disparate strategies. And as his title's top editorial executive, Anderson is in a position to push for changes in the relationship between print and online.

Galavanting over advertising: Anderson makes an estimated $2 million a year giving around 50 speeches, according to numbers compiled by the New York Times. This lucrative circuit takes him to places like Oslo, Norway, where he recently lectured a gathering of marketers. The trips, we hear, do not sit well with Condé's publishing side.

Plagiarism: Anderson has said that, in lifting material off Wikipedia for Free, he simply forgot to convert some footnotes to in-line attributions within the body of the text. But even with attribution, he should have paraphrased the material or, failing that, used quote marks.

Books counter to the recessionary zeitgeist: Granted, the most useful books often demolish conventional wisdom. And successful authors often face swift backlash from New York's finicky media elite. But it's worth noting that Anderson's book Free is coming out at precisely the time many businesses are finding new ways to charge charge customers, rather than new ways to give things away.

Likewise, the sort of niche Web content one might have invested in after reading Anderson's last book, the Long Tail, is faltering amid the advertising downturn.

(Pic by Pop Tech 2008)