The small staff of Boston.com, the breaking-news site associated with The Boston Globe, is still reeling from weeks of internal unrest stemming from a series a viral posts about a Harvard professor and a Chinese restaurant published in early December, which resulted in a retraction, some disciplinary actions, and a suspension for one staffer. The turmoil’s latest casualty, however, involves a previously unrelated party: a young journalist who was about to start a fellowship at BuzzFeed.
Capital’s Peter Sterne reports that the viral news website abruptly terminated a paid fellowship offer it had extended to 24-year-old Boston.com writer Doug Saffir shortly after Capital inquired about his alleged involvement in leaking information—in this case, an audio file recorded during a staff meeting—to local Boston station WGBH. Saffir and another employee, David Stewart, were reprimanded for the leak; the latter is “expected to return this week,” according to Capital. Saffir, however, appears to be out of a job entirely at BuzzFeed:
Three people close to Boston.com told Capital that on Dec. 15, breaking news writer Doug Saffir was escorted out of the newsroom and has not been seen in the building since. Saffir had already been accepted for a fellowship position at BuzzFeed News and given his two weeks’ notice to Boston.com the week before.
A BuzzFeed spokesperson initially confirmed to Capital that Saffir was a fellow at BuzzFeed News, reporting to news editor Rachel Zarrell, who is herself a former Boston.com employee. Shortly after being asked about the incident at Boston.com, though, the BuzzFeed spokeswoman told Capital that Saffir’s offer had been rescinded and he would not be joining the fellowship program after all.
The timeline here is pretty easy to interpret: BuzzFeed withdrew Saffir’s offer because he was somehow involved in leaking information to another outlet. (In an email exchange with Gawker, a BuzzFeed spokesperson didn’t challenge this interpretation.)
Now, it’s certainly within BuzzFeed’s rights to cancel Saffir’s job offer, regardless of his actual role (however minor) in recording or leaking the audio. Indeed, the move squares with the culture of loyalty—or secrecy—that BuzzFeed has worked to cultivate over the past few years. Internal company memos rarely leak from its ever-expanding rank-and-file; employees there often fret about retribution for divulging information to reporters. Whatever you think of that atmosphere, Saffir would be considered a serious liability within it.
At the same time, BuzzFeed isn’t a government office or a bank; it’s a media company which depends on, and regularly publishes, leaked information. The site’s biggest scoop of 2014 was a 96-page internal report presented to top executives at The New York Times. BuzzFeed is perfectly comfortable with using information that other outlets would rather keep secret. Now that we can likely discern what moved BuzzFeed to cancel this particular job offer—a willingness to acquire and divulge secrets—it’s worth asking what kind of secrets BuzzFeed is worried about protecting.