Surely, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith was hoping for a better way to close out 2014 than this.
In a New Years Eve interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, the BuzzFeed editor in chief was taken to task over “tabloid journalism” on his site, with the main point of contention being a misleading headline on the BuzzFeed’s front page, “Dead Cops Chant A Myth.”
During the interview, Hewitt brought up the story, asking the BuzzFeed editor asking what he calls that type of headline, which the radio host referred to initially as “the escalator of attention grabbers.”
After hearing of the headline and story, Smith went silent for nearly 10 seconds, telling Hewitt later on that he hadn’t actually seen either.
“I actually haven’t read the story so I don’t think I want to debate it with you,” Smith told Hewitt.
“I’m ahead of the editor?!” Hewitt responded semi-incredulously.
“The story is a good story,” Hewitt continued. “It makes a key point, which is the amplification of trolls is a problem in the news business. That’s what happens. The lowest common denominator of any story gets the most attention. Nevertheless, the headline …”
“This story ‘Protestors Against Police Brutality Aren’t Advocating For Dead Cops’ is looking pretty straight forward,” Smith said in his initial assessment of the story.
“Look at ‘Dead Cops Chant A Myth,’ Ben. It’s not a myth, she confirms it in the first graf! It happened,” Hewitt told Smith.
“Oh, I see,” Smith said in his coming-to-Jesus moment. “You’re talking about the splash headline here.”
“Yea!” Hewitt responded while laughing. “What people click on! So is that tabloid? Are you guys borrowing …”
“I think myth is a little strong,” said the backtracking editor, who was trying to actively find out more about the story as audible clicks emanated in the background.
“But I’m also not sure what you’re asking,” Smith told Hewitt.
“What I’m saying is do you feel regret that they used that, or is that just fair game, tabloid journalism, come to the Internet,” Hewitt said. “You’re just trying to get people to click on that to read …”
“I’m happy to take a look at the story that you’re reading aloud to me at the moment,” Smith told the radio host. “I think that, obviously, that if reporting is accurate, the headline should be accurate.”
“But yea, I think that’s a fairly obvious point that we both agree on,” Smith conceded.
Obviously, Smith was not pleased as the story was immediately removed from the website’s front page, though some on Twitter saw the story and tweeted out the link with the headline from the front page splash.
Ultimately, the headline for the story on the page was changed to “The Origins Of The Alleged ‘Dead Cops’ Chant” on the article itself (as of 2:37 p.m.), though Buzzfeed had already promoted the story on social media with its previous headline, as Smith mentioned mentioned in the interview.
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) December 31, 2014