Don’t Ask BuzzFeed Why It Deleted Thousands of Posts

On Tuesday, Gawker reported that BuzzFeed had quietly removed from its site nearly 5,000 posts in April, a discovery the viral news conglomerate’s editor-in-chief refused to address before publication. Now BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti is explaining—or trying to explain—why his site disappeared those articles.

In an interview with Slate’s Will Oremus, Peretti “insisted that the purge was not the blatant breach of journalistic ethics that it might seem” and argued that “BuzzFeed began as a tech company, not a media company.”

But Peretti doesn’t account for the fact that BuzzFeed carried out the secret purge in 2014, years after it pivoted from a content laboratory to a real media company. As Oremus explains:

Retracting a story is viewed as a serious blow to one’s journalistic credibility—and to do so without notifying readers is a cardinal sin. Retracting four thousand posts without telling anyone is simply unheard of.

Peretti’s response? “We probably could have communicated better, or handled it better.”

In other words, the deleted posts are a P.R. headache, rather than an indictment of the site and its culture. (One of Peretti’s justifications for removing the posts was that they were “not worth improving or saving because the content [wasn’t] good.”)

At the same time, Peretti tries to lay down some principles: All of the deleted posts, he tells Oremus, predated BuzzFeed’s hiring of editor-in-chief Ben Smith, who came on from Politico in December 2011 to build out the site’s reporting operation and implement proper sourcing standards.

Is this timeline true? As counter-evidence, Oremus points out a widely-maligned staff-written article titled “What’s the Deal With Jazz?” that disappeared after it was published in February 2013. However, when asked about this post in particular, BuzzFeed spokesperson Ashley McCollum had a convincing explanation. “The author of that post, who no longer works here, deleted it without notifying anyone,” McCollum said in an email to Gawker. “It has been reinstated and an editor’s note has been added.”

In a nod to its updated policies, the note reads:

This post has been reinstated after it was brought to our attention that the author deleted it, against our editorial standards.


To contact the author of this post, email trotter@gawker.com

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