Facts about The Reader and Source Material

by Chris Theodore, Co-Founder, The Reader Magazine

Every year, Noble Media, Inc. publishes and mails 480,000 Reader Magazines, which together contain 35 million advertisements and 5.7 million articles.  The Reader Magazine is one of 2,180 companies globally that are B-Certified, a special designation also earned by Etsy, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation for maintaining high standards of social and environmental performance.

The Beginning

The first Reader Magazine, published Spring 2001, was nine pages of ads and a three-page section of content called The Redlands Reader.  

Why did I start The Reader?  I believed people in my local community deserved and needed information that genuinely empowered them, a belief which came from seeing my dad's dignified enthusiasm teaching elementary, high school and community college students (a career that lasted 55 years).  I loved the idea of getting to create a beautiful physical news object, a desire formed in my earliest years from seeing my mom who, starting in the 1960s, was the executive secretary to the founder of World Vision, where she designed and wrote some of its first pamphlets sent around the world to raise money for marginalized people.  In truth, I started The Reader because it was a way to pursue what I loved: being an entrepreneur, making things, words, and art.

As the years past I poured my heart and soul into building the publication.  I visited thousands of small and mid-sized businesses in the east valley area of the Inland Empire.  It was very humbling work.  I grew the circulation to sixty thousand households (about 195,000 people).  In 2005, Hajnalka Hogue became the first employee.  In part through her considerable skills in operations-- she had with her a Ph.d in organizational development-- The Reader's circulation grew to 120,000 households (about 390,000 people) and revenues continued to grow.  Today, there are four distinct Reader Magazines, each focusing on a 30,000 household community, each nearly fifty pages.

Ms. Fry's Failure of "Basic, Even Routine Journalism Practice"

On October 28, 2011, an article about The Reader entitled Plagiarism for Profit appeared online by a student journalist named Erika Fry.  That it was published and remains online is remarkable.  Ms. Fry's article contained no statistical or thorough analysis of Reader content.  It contained no interview with a reader, advertiser or contributing writer.  Ms. Fry did not know when our publication began.  Ms. Fry devoted a fifth of her article on our use of content which was all designated as Creative Commons content, without ever revealing in her article that this content was designated Creative Commons. 

The words failed basic, even routine journalistic practice come from an April 2015 report by three faculty members of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism who were asked to report on the The Rolling Stone article "A Rape on Campus".  The report concluded the journalist Sabrina Erdely and Rolling Stone failed "basic, even routine journalistic practice", in part for an inadequate number of interviews to support the serious allegations in her story.

Ms. Fry made allegations about the character and business model of The Reader Magazine without having conducted a single interview with a reader, advertiser or contributing writer to The Reader Magazine.  It's reasonable to think that a publication's readers, advertisers and contributing writers would be interviewed to accurately report on the character of a publication.

Ms. Fry made allegations about the character and business model of The Reader without providing any statistical analysis of our source material.

Inside 38 Issues of The Reader

In fact, all thirty-eight issues produced from 2001 to 2011 when Ms. Fry wrote her article (and all twenty-five issues since this time) contain originally-conducted interviews with locals from the community, originally-compiled statistics on local issues, originally-compiled quotes from local officials on important issues as well as originally-produced quizzes, articles, contests and a community calendar. The amount of original articles and content like this and other content used with permission from 2001 to 2011 is approximately 400 to 500.

Here is a sample of contributing writers from a handful of the thirty-eight issues produced from 2001 to 2011, who Ms. Fry could have interviewed but chose not to:

  • Juan Felipe Herrera, the current U.S. Poet Laureate who wrote the cover story "Hunting Passion" (August, September, October 2007)
  • Grace Lee Boggs, activist, writer and speaker (August, September, October 2008)
  • John Esther, a Los Angeles-based contributing interviewer and writer (August, September, October 2005)
  • Wilma Rueda, a Redlands-based writer and interviewer who wrote the cover story "How Will You Be Remembered?" (May, June, July 2008)
  • Tamara Hattis, a Redlands-based writer who wrote "Meet Your Neighbor"
  • Kevin Bales, founder of Free The Slaves, who wrote the cover story (May, June, July 2010)
  • Robert Shetterly, author and artist of "Americans Who Tell The Truth", whose work formed the cover story (February, March, April 2008)
  • Susan Zador, a registered nurse and local expert on preventing elder care abuse (May, June, July 2008) 
  • Donna Solomon, a Redlands-based writer of "The Famous Quarterly" and conducted in-the-street interviews
  • Joanna Strong-Milsap, a Redlands-based writer who wrote feature stories
  • Lindsay Wolf, a local writer who conducted on-the-street interviews
  • John Devitt, author and artist of "The Moving Wall" (August, September, October 2007).


I contribute original writing in every issue of The Reader, including two cover stories (January, February, March 2006 and May, June, July 2009).  There are issues of The Reader which only contain original content including Winter 2003-4 and Summer 2004.

In more than thirty issues of The Reader appears an original feature, Dangerous Unselfishness, which gives readers information on a social justice issue or human rights violation and provides a way to join the relief effort, drawn from cited reporting by groups like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or from locally-sourced reporting. 

Dangerous Unselfishness in the August, September, October 2008 issue included the story of my father-- 80 years old at the time-- traveling 8,500 miles from California to Sudan and Ethiopia to aid the establishment of a new preschool for over 300 children.  The feature raised awareness that "there are an estimated 6 million orphans living in Ethiopia, many of whom lost their parents to aids".  Why did Ms. Fry simply leave out this long-running feature which characterizes the values-driven editorial content of The Reader?

Was Basic Reporting Done?

Instead of conducting basic, routine journalism, Ms. Fry cherry-picked interviews with people she found who were unaware that their work had been published in The Reader.

When Ms. Fry first contacted me, she did so from a personal email address making it more likely that I might not take the communication seriously or respond in time; when I did respond she informed me the deadline was noon the next day. 

Ms. Fry omitted facts which basic reporting would have uncovered and used the occasions to imply negative characterizations.  For example, Ms. Fry introduces her reader to me this way:  “Though Reader Magazine founder Chris Theodore says his publication is 10 years old, only issues dating to 2008 can be found at his website.” In fact, at the time she wrote her article our publication was 10 years old, a fact that could have been verified in 15 minutes by checking online with the Secretary of State of California or through other basic reporting. Rather than do this work, Ms. Fry found it more interesting to imply that I am untruthful.

For the owners of a publication or media company the longevity of their enterprise is one of the most hard-fought for, crucial assets in its legitimacy.  It communicates their commitment and dedication.  As one of the owners of The Reader, who saw once a team member fall asleep exhausted in her chair long past midnight while earning meager reward during years Ms. Fry, in a few dozen keystrokes, sought to cast doubt ever existed, I regard it as a profound insult and moral failure on her part, and on the part of those who are keeping this article online.  

The Omission of Key Facts

Finally, Ms. Fry centered her article on The Reader's use of content from Yes! Magazine.  While she took the time to reproduce graphics we published in The Reader and show their clear similarity to graphics in Yes! Magazine, Ms. Fry left out that all the Yes! content-- graphics and text-- used by The Reader was designated by Yes! as Creative Commons content.  Nor did she inform her readers that Yes! Magazine's website stated and still does: 

"We want you to pass along the work of YES! Magazine", and "You are free to use any graphics or illustrations marked as 'YES! Magazine Graphic'…". 

Instead, Ms. Fry wrote:

"Doug Pibel, Yes!’s managing editor, says that Reader lifted at least 11 pieces".  

The word "lifted" is a particular low point in Ms. Fry's false narrative.  How could The Reader "lift" Creative Commons content?  Either Ms. Fry made up editor Pibel's use of the word "lifted", or he misspoke, which she should have corrected.

In truth, we used content from Yes! for the same reason Yes! Magazine uses content from other sources.  When we've found organizations and individuals whose voices deserve to benefit from The Reader Magazine's ability to make their voice heard louder, we've used our platform for this purpose.

Click here to read more, including specific questions we put together for the Columbia Journalism Review or contact Ms. Hajnalka Hogue at hnagy@reader.us.  

There are no other issues we feel we need to address at this time.