The Mirror

Was Benny Johnson Merely BuzzFeed’s Fall Guy?

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Sure, BuzzFeed‘s head honchos made the decision to let Benny Johnson go with heavy hearts. But was he just a symptom of larger problems? Kind of like a little morning indigestion that actually turns out to be pancreatitis.

Gawker’s J.K. Trotter took yet another bite out of BuzzFeed today, unearthing some 4,900 stories that BuzzFeed has deleted since April. They’re uncertain of the number but deduced it from the number of stories showing on senior editors’ pages compared to before BuzzFeed promised to raise their editorial standards.

Trotter called this “a practice virtually unheard of in online publishing.” His big takeaway: “Even if we account for any posts published during the above periods, we’re still talking about at least 4,900 posts that BuzzFeed eradicated from its servers without any kind of explanation to its readers.”

BuzzFeed‘s editor-in-chief Ben Smith wouldn’t tell Trotter anything about the deleted posts. Then again, the two sites are engaging in what appears to be bitter warfare with BuzzFeed going after Gawker Media today for upsetting Jezebel. Ahhh….so much for Gawker‘s short-lived declaration to play nice with competitors. Back in March Gawker founder Nick Denton called BuzzFeed their biggest competitor but also called them “pointless” and their editorial approach “inconsistent.”

Politico media writer Dylan Byers says BuzzFeed‘s acts of removing that many posts weren’t necessarily “sinister.” Although he writes that it would “behoove” them to inform their readers what the hell they’re doing.

This all comes just a day after the world learned that BuzzFeed acquired an impressive $50 million and plans to “broaden its international footprint” to places like Tokyo, Mubai, Berlin, and Mexico City.

Some questions remain: Is this a way of glazing over and tidying up the recent firing of BuzzFeed viral politics editor Benny Johnson, who committed 41 acts of plagiarism in his few years there? He was not a journalist by trade — something many think is unnecessary in the first place. But did BuzzFeed throw Johnson, formerly an organic chemist, under the bus for their misdeeds and culture of swiping and repackaging copy from around the web?

BuzzFeed had reason, and rightly so, to believe that Benny was entertaining offers from a number of competitive newsrooms.

“They had little reason to invest or defend him if they suspected that he would soon leave BuzzFeed,” said an industry executive who spoke to The Mirror on condition of anonymity.

“BuzzFeed certainly made him the sacrificial lamb for their shoddy editorial practices. There was a very real editorial layer between concept and publish that failed miserably. Benny’s editors knew damn well that he wasn’t in Korea and hadn’t been to Egypt — yet no one ever questioned his sourcing of information.

In addition, the journalists who reported his story bombed. Johnson was a content creator, not a writer. In order to commit plagiarism, you must be a writer — yet the mainstream media cannabalized one another to tell a salacious story and failed to properly describe to their readers his actual role at the site.

The most ridiculous part of this entire faux scandal is that BuzzFeed, inventor of the midnight content dump, fired anyone for plagiarism.”

The Mirror sought comment from a BuzzFeed publicist. They declined to comment.

But a statement to Gawker weeks ago explained as follows: “In a review of our most updated policies and standards, we revisited all posts from earlier years. Certain items published no longer met our editorial standards and we want all content our readers see to meet our current policies and practices. We edited some posts, removed certain posts and left other posts as is.”