The Mirror

BuzzFeed Still Refuses To Disclose Ties To Uber Competitors

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Fine, one time may be an unintentional oversight.

But now? It’s just sloppy.

Last month, when BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith first wrote that an Uber exec wanted to hire opposition researchers to dig up dirt on journalists, he caught a raft of shit for supposedly reporting on an off-the-record dinner. He also failed to disclose that BuzzFeed has major financial ties to company competitors such as Sidecar and Lyft. For instance, BuzzFeed chairman Ken Lerer is an early Sidecar investor. Andreessen Horowitz, a BuzzFeed investor, backs Lyft. At the time, Smith claimed he had no real obligation to disclose this information because, after all, how should he know all the vast numbers of companies who invest in BuzzFeed? [RELATED: BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith Plays Dumb About Company Investors]


Well, now that Smith knows, wouldn’t it behoove him to add a disclosure note to all stories on Uber?

Um, not so much. They’re BuzzFeed, and they play by their own rules. [RELATED: Was Benny Johnson Merely BuzzFeed’s Fall Guy?]

A story published Sunday by BuzzFeed‘s Jacob Fischler concerned Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) pressing Uber on why it accessed a journalist’s account info.

An important story for sure. But once again, no disclosure on BuzzFeed‘s ties to Uber competitors.

When asked for an explanation, neither Smith nor a BuzzFeed spokeswoman had a response. Last time around, when I asked about the lack of disclosure, I was directed to a tweet in which BuzzFeed chief of staff Ashley McCollum wrote, “BF’s investors invest in over 1000 companies. It’s insulting to Ben and our reporters to imply there’s any conflict in our reporting.”

This time around, McCollum directed me to a story by Re/code‘s Peter Kafka from Nov. 20. In it, Smith regurgitates what sounds like a corporate gobbledygook.

“We follow the traditional, strict media practice of making a disclosure when we write about our investors, something we feel our readers should know as a matter of transparency. Like media companies from the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg to the Washington Post, we do not have a newsroom conversation about, or expect our reporters to be aware of other investments made by our board members and investors. Investment has no bearing and no influence on our reporting, as I think our day in, day out coverage — and certainly our coverage of Uber — makes that clear.”

McCollum also had a quote in that story: “Our board and investors are invested in thousands of companies and their competitors, and there’s zero correlation or connection between investment in BuzzFeed and our reporting.”

All of this rings rather hollow. If there really is no correlation, then why not disclose, even just for the hell of it?