Jonah Peretti, the founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, is a big fan of labor unions—as long as they come nowhere near BuzzFeed. According to BuzzFeed reporter Cora Lewis, Peretti told employees this week that “I don’t think a union is right for BuzzFeed,” citing the fact that BuzzFeed is structured more like a tech startup than a traditional media company and his own belief that unionization would negatively affect the salaries of BuzzFeed’s writers and reporters (in whom the company has invested tens of millions of dollars).
Late last month, Recode reported that NBCUniversal is preparing to invest $250 million in BuzzFeed, a play that would value the site at $1.5 billion. This newest round of funding (last year, it was merely $50 million from Andreessen Horowitz) raised a still unanswered question: How is BuzzFeed doing financially? According to internal documents obtained by Gawker, the answer is: Good. The company’s revenue tripled from 2012 to 2013, and reached $46 million in the first half of last year. Its investment in editorial has doubled each year. The documents also prove clearly for the first time that BuzzFeed pays millions of dollars to sites like Facebook to boost its clients’ advertising campaigns.
Thursday night, BuzzFeed news editor Rachel Zarrell reacted to a deadly shooting at a Louisiana movie theater by tweeting, “Don’t pray. Push for gun control” and “If this were someone in my family I’d want every person alive screaming about gun control to anyone who would listen.” Within an hour, however, Zarrell suddenly reversed course by tweeting an apology of sorts to the conservative activist Stephen Miller:
In late January, BuzzFeed published a lengthy standards and ethics manual, with which the site intended to hold itself accountable for various missteps (such as surreptitiously deleting articles). Unlike most other news outlets that bother with ethics manuals, however, BuzzFeed decided to specify its stance toward a number of social and political issues: “We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.”
Today the Washington Post published a lengthy and (mostly) flattering profile of Benny Johnson, the serial plagiarist who was fired from BuzzFeed last summer and now peddles viral conservative content at Independent Journal Review. “D.C. has always been the city of second chances, now it just moves at meme speed,” reporter Ben Terris writes. “And no one can ride a meme like Benny Johnson.”
On Thursday, at about 4 p.m. Central Standard Time, several news outlets reported that Dennis Hastert, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and Illinois congressman, was indicted for, among other offenses, lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The media entities included BuzzFeed News, the Chicago Sun-Times, and CBS Chicago, all of whom posted their stories within minutes of each other.
This is the day that the New York Times, National Geographic, and BuzzFeed, among others, began publishing stories directly to Facebook. The instant-publishing partnership is the newest concession to, or accommodation with, Facebook’s ever-greater dominance of how people encounter and read (or watch) material.
In late 2012, the morning after the second presidential debate, BuzzFeed published an article titled “The Debate Romney Won,” which floated the Romney campaign’s theory that the Republican candidate “came out on top — horserace analysis be damned” in the October 16 debate. The piece is mostly notable for the decision of its authors, McKay Coppins and Zeke Miller, to grant anonymity to a Romney aide so he could praise his own boss and trash President Obama as “a weak leader.” It is also notable for the fact that, two days after it was published, the entire post disappeared from BuzzFeed’s website.
On April 16, Gawker contacted BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith with evidence that his site had deleted a post criticizing Pepsi, a BuzzFeed advertiser, under pressure from the beverage manufacturer. In response, Smith invited Gawker to interview him and BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti at the company’s New York office. A transcript of the interview, which took place on April 17 and concerns BuzzFeed’s ongoing review of deleted content, can be found below. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Earlier this week, BuzzFeed launched an internal review of any posts that its editors or writers had deleted from the site since editor-in-chief Ben Smith was hired in January 2012. In an interview on Friday, and a memo sent to staff on Saturday, Smith revealed that the review has already uncovered three instances where complaints from the site’s business and advertising departments led Smith to delete posts.
BuzzFeed beauty editor Arabelle Sicardi, who wrote a post criticizing a Dove soap advertising campaign that was later deleted (and eventually restored) at the request of editor-in-chief Ben Smith, is resigning from the site, according to an internal memo distributed by BuzzFeed Style editor Julie Gerstein.
What's amazing about BuzzFeed's perpetual amnesiac/wayward-husband approach to its ethical guidelines (Today is the first day of the rest of our ethics!) is that the person who has to give voice to this ever-evolving set of rationalizations about the trial-and-error nature of developing ethics is the stolidly conventional Ben Smith, who certainly 10 years ago when I shared a newsroom with him, at the New York Observer, showed no signs of not being fully socialized to professional standards. In fact, in that light, his absurd and instantly disprovable messaging about the need to define and restrict BuzzFeed writers' use of personal opinion becomes intelligible—it is meant, consciously or unconsciously, as an appeal to stodgy, ultra-conventional journalistic values. He did not violate basic standards because he is at the helm of a post-moral money-making machine that only impersonates journalism to the extent it helps with its branding, but because he was uncomfortable with this newfangled opinion-slinging.
Yesterday we reported BuzzFeed’s decision to delete a staff-written post that criticized a viral advertisement for Dove beauty products. In response, BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith released a rather incredible internal memo that instructed the site’s writers not to “advance [their] personal opinion” and claimed that “we’ve never had to pull a post before”—which is true for BuzzFeed Life, perhaps, but not for BuzzFeed as a whole.
Wednesday afternoon, BuzzFeed published a post by staff writer Arabelle Sicardi that openly criticized a bizarre advertising campaign by Dove. (A sample passage: “The soap manufacturer wants to tell us how we feel about ourselves. And then fix it for us. With soap.”) Thursday morning, however, BuzzFeed deleted the entire post and replaced it with a single sentence: “We pulled this post because it is not consistent with the tone of BuzzFeed Life.”