A recent hire by the Alabama Media Group — which is al.com and the Newhouse-owned newspapers in Mobile, Birmingham and Huntsville — brought controversy and stirred up some newsroom personnel, according to company insiders.

Natalie Pierre was recently hired as a senior sports reporter covering SEC Football for AMG, but her hiring drew the attention of a couple of national online publications — Jimromenesko.com and Deadspin.com — pointing out that Pierre’s departure from the Tallahassee Democrat was less-than-ideal. According to Deadspin’s story, as well as a short article by the Democrat, Pierre was suspected of having plagiarized a freelance writer for Miami Herald in articles under her byline, which ran on Tallahassee.com and in the print version of the Democrat. An article published Oct. 2 by Democrat Executive Editor Bob Gabordi said the newspaper had come to the conclusion Pierre plagiarized at least part of an article she wrote Sept. 24 about Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman.

“Earlier this week, it came to our attention that a story in the Tallahassee Democrat and on Tallahassee.com by Florida State sports reporter Natalie Pierre appeared similar to a story written by freelance writer Tim Linafelt,” Gabordi wrote. “After investigating further, we concluded that it was too similar to be pure coincidence, that pieces – at least — of the story were plagiarized. Pierre resigned and no longer will report on behalf of our news organization.”

Pierre stopped short of admitting plagiarism. According to Deadspin she wrote on her own website, “After more than three years covering Florida State athletics for the Tallahassee Democrat I resigned from my role on Wednesday, Oct. 1, after I was informed that words that were not my own were published in the Democrat and on Tallahassee.com with my byline. While I did not intentionally plagiarize another journalist’s work, I take full responsibility for some of freelance writer Tim Linafelt’s words appearing in my story last week.” When Lagniappe attempted to verify that statement on Pierre’s website, it was not there or had been removed.

Lining the articles up side-by-side, there are a few striking similarities.

Linafelt’s article, which ran Sept. 23, contained the following:

“With the score tied at 17 and 1:40 remaining on the clock, Clemson was driving deep in FSU territory for a game-clinching score when Goldman descended on running back C.J. Davidson, felt his hand on the ball and yanked it loose.

“Defensive back Nate Andrews recovered the fumble to send the game to overtime.

“’That’s one of our keys,’ Mitchell said. ‘Make sure the first guy wraps up [the ballcarrier], then the next guy to get him, you strip the ball.

“’Eddie was just able to take care of both of them by himself.’”

Pierre’s article the next day:
“With the score tied at 17 and just 1:40 remaining in regulation, Goldman descended on running back C.J. Davidson, felt his hand on the ball and then yanked it loose.

“’That’s one of our keys – the first guy wraps [the ball carrier] up and then the next guy gets to him and then strips the ball out,’ defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell, Jr. explained. ‘Eddie was just able to take care of both of them by himself.’”

From Linafelt:

“After a first-down incompletion in overtime, Goldman bowled through the line, wrapped up elusive quarterback Deshaun Waston, and brought him down for a four-yard sack.”

From Pierre:

“On a second-and-10 play in overtime, Goldman burst through the Tigers’ offensive line and sacked the dynamic Deshaun Watson for a four-yard loss.”

According to the Deadspin article Pierre’s resignation also was in part due to issues at the newspaper. The statement on her website, according to Deadspin, indicated that the paper’s newsroom issues were in part a reason for her leaving.

“My decision to resign from the Democrat came in part because of the current climate of the newsroom. The majority of my former co-workers were all required to re-apply for their positions on Monday and Tuesday, while I was exempt from the process that will result in a number of great journalists being laid off,”
Deadspin quoted her as writing. Again, that statement was not available on her site when Lagniappe looked.

Flash forward to November and Pierre has landed at job with AMG and suddenly the questions of her resignation have moved front and center for al.com staffers, particularly, it seems, for those in Birmingham. According to al.com staffers at a meeting Tuesday morning, reporters questioned the hiring but were told by AMG leadership that they had done their due diligence in checking Pierre’s background and would be standing by her.

Lagniappe attempted to contact AMG President Matt Sharp and Vice President for Content Michelle Holmes for comment for this story but did not receive comment back before deadline.