BuzzFeed and the deletion of published material

posted at 5:31 pm on April 11, 2015 by Jazz Shaw

Knowing our audience as well as I do, I’m confident that one of the pressing issues you’re all waiting to hear about is Dove soap and the challenges of female body image. (Wait! WAIT! Come back! I was kidding…) The actual story here has to do with a recent article published at BuzzFeed which dealt with the aforementioned subject. What it was about doesn’t really matter here, but suffice it to say that the author was rather critical of what Dove was doing in their promotional campaign. One possible fly in the ointment was that Dove is a subsidiary of Unilever and they are an advertiser at BuzzFeed. Oops.

Shortly thereafter, BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith yanked the article.

It’s one of the cardinal rules of journalism: Once you publish something, there’s no taking it back (at least not without a correction, and never without including the original material).

Not so at BuzzFeed.

On Thursday, the online outlet took down a post critical of Dove — whose parent company, Unilever, is a major advertiser — leaving a notice that explained, “We pulled this post because it is not consistent with the tone of BuzzFeed Life.” …

BuzzFeed Life editors Emily Fleischaker and Peggy Wang addressed the incident in an email to staff, saying the post was taken down because, “When we approach charged topics like body image and feminism, we need to show not tell.” Basically, it seems Fleischaker and Wang took exception to the post because it advanced a point of view.

Not long after, the article was back. (The timing isn’t entirely clear, but it appears that the resurrection took place after other outlets noticed it had been deleted and began making a point of it.) Editor Ben Smith came out with something of a mea culpa.

“I blew it,” Smith wrote in an email to staff. “Twice in the last couple of months, I’ve asked editors — over their better judgment and without any respect to our standards or process — to delete recently published posts from the site. Both involved the same thing: my overreaction to questions we’ve been wrestling with about the place of personal opinion pieces on our site.” Smith denied that the stories were removed because they criticized advertisers.

I’m really not an expert on how editors handle “issues of female body image” these days, but the explanation is a bit odd to say the least. You don’t need to peruse the BuzzFeed site very long to find plenty of opinion, or at least reporting which seems to show a biased preference for one angle or another on a story. And reading the original article, it clearly wasn’t any sort of hacked up hit job. The author was talking about a company which purports to support real life beauty in women rather than stereotypes of plastic, Hollywood looks but then seems to raise money off products designed to deal with that perception. Still, I can’t read Ben Smith’s mind, so who can really say.

No matter how much you object to a particular article, though, pulling it is never the answer. And there are more than a few examples of when BuzzFeed has pulled published material in the past. That’s just a Bozo no-no. Simply speaking from experience here I can assure you that I’ve published more than my fair share of bonehead material. (And our regular readers in the comment section will happily provide a litany of examples.) I’ve had to do some serious (and serial) edits on articles when I missed something, misinterpreted details or just plain got things wrong. I can’t dredge it up now but I once published an entire article here about something that happened in one European or Asian country and it actually took place in a different one. Oops.

In all those times, however, it was never suggested to me that I delete a published article. And if I had done so, I’m fairly sure I’d have been fired. You can edit the heck out of an article to make it better so long as you make a note – either in the body of the text where the change took place or at the bottom – describing what was edited. I don’t include typos in that category, but anything of substance to the facts under discussion needs to remain or be annotated to reflect the change. That’s just a given.

But BuzzFeed has apologized for this latest editorial snafu and moved on. Next time you see a list of the Ten Sexiest Men in the DC Valet Business, you’ll know it’s the real top ten.


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Comments

[Comment deleted, user warned — Ed]

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 5:36 PM

The actual story here has to do with a recent article published at BuzzFeed which dealt with the aforementioned subject.

link is bad, Ed warned

corona79 on April 11, 2015 at 5:39 PM

1984

Pegcity on April 11, 2015 at 5:40 PM

“Mistakes were made.”

The all-purpose lefty excuse, from murder of innocents, to false imprisonment to deleting an article.

Wish conservatives had such a good excuse.

*envious sigh*

Dolce Far Niente on April 11, 2015 at 5:44 PM

That was an on-topic joke, btw. I’m not in time out yet.

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 5:49 PM

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 5:49 PM

Can you say (or hint) at what offended Ed?

gh on April 11, 2015 at 6:04 PM

We won’t disparage Jazz’s accuracy in articles…..today.

Today we’ll let buzzfeed show how disgusting the left is and how stupid they think their readership is (and they’d be mostly correct).

…..that is all…..

Andy__B on April 11, 2015 at 6:05 PM

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm,……speaking of stories,….it could be worse!

And, a Lefty Hopey/Changey supporter!
————————————

https://twitter.com/AP

The Associated Press @AP · 1h 1 hour ago

Egypt court sentences US-Egyptian citizen to life on charges of spreading false news, financing sit-in: http://apne.ws/1aD1fi3
===============================================================

Egypt court sentences US-Egyptian citizen to life in prison
By MERRIT KENNEDY
Apr. 11, 2015 2:35 PM EDT
*************************

CAIRO (AP) — An Egyptian criminal court sentenced a dual U.S.-Egyptian citizen on a monthslong hunger strike to life in prison Saturday on charges of financing an anti-government sit-in

and spreading false news.

Mohammed, a 27-year-old Ohio State University graduate and former Barack Obama campaigner,(More…………….)
==============================================

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/6062493c757f4882b5c4ff7c2199f38c/report-court-sentences-us-egypt-citizen-life-prison

canopfor on April 11, 2015 at 6:08 PM

It appears that BuzzFeed got fed its buzz.

Perhaps news sites should warn its advertisers that advertising cash does not purchase reportage immunity nor positive reportage.

But that seems to be too brave a thing to do at the site where the buzz has been fed to them.

ajacksonian on April 11, 2015 at 6:11 PM

I’ve always thought that Google is the company that paid out to the websites and they decided which advertisements viewers seen.

Politricks on April 11, 2015 at 6:18 PM

Politricks on April 11, 2015 at 6:18 PM

It’s not the only one. Just the biggest.

gh on April 11, 2015 at 6:20 PM

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 5:49 PM

 
Can you say (or hint) at what offended Ed?
 
gh on April 11, 2015 at 6:04 PM

 
Nothing. I’d imagine he’s at home having a pleasant dinner with his family. It was a just an easy copy/paste comment on the commentary:
 

It’s one of the cardinal rules of journalism: Once you publish something, there’s no taking it back (at least not without a correction, and never without including the original material).

 
It did look surprisingly realistic after I posted, though. If I did it again (which I doubt I will now that I see it) I’d probably leave out the “-Ed” from the direct quotation. Yes, it would reduce the effect, but it also wouldn’t need subtitles.
 
It would be kind of comical if it were deleted or if I got a warning out of it, though.
 
(Sorry if I caused any grief, Jazz/Ed.)

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 6:39 PM

Simply speaking from experience here I can assure you that I’ve published more than my fair share of bonehead material. (And our regular readers in the comment section will happily provide a litany of examples.)

I’m not in the business so I certainly can’t speak from experience, but I’ve heard that as long as no 3 people can agree on the contents of that list, you’re good.

GrumpyOldFart on April 11, 2015 at 6:41 PM

[Comment deleted, user warned — Ed]

rogerb

A bit ironic considering the subject.

xblade on April 11, 2015 at 6:41 PM

Annnnd, never mind, lol. Got me.

xblade on April 11, 2015 at 6:43 PM

Hillary deleted. That’s criminal and censorship.

She should be made to serve time being incarcerated.

SpongePuppy on April 11, 2015 at 6:43 PM

I like rogerb in a manly way. Awesome poster.

SpongePuppy on April 11, 2015 at 6:49 PM

Hillary deleted. That’s criminal and censorship.

She should be made to serve time being incarcerated.

SpongePuppy on April 11, 2015 at 6:43 PM

SpongePuppy: Now your cook’n with the gas:0

canopfor on April 11, 2015 at 6:50 PM

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 6:39 PM

lol … it crossed my mind that it was oddly appropriate to the story … especially being the first comment …

gh on April 11, 2015 at 6:58 PM

rogerb – you had me really worried we might lose you!

AesopFan on April 11, 2015 at 7:15 PM

Well, at least if you didn’t know it already; Ben Smith is a POS.

TheMadHessian on April 11, 2015 at 7:37 PM

There was just no way that Ed was going to dig into a post about improper deletion, and delete the first comment. Still, well played, roger.

A news source deleting an article once published is unethical.

Hillary deleting official government emails is a federal offense.

Hillary conducting official government communications, including those of a classified nature (not possible for SecState to claim that every bit of communication to/from her email was un-class) is also a federal offense.

Anybody else caught doing either of those things would be facing 10+ years in Federal pound me in the ___ prison.

Hillary still plans to run for the presidency.

Freelancer on April 11, 2015 at 7:49 PM

On the topic of the deleted & resurrected article itself; the only thing I got from it is that some women really, really stupid.

whatcat on April 11, 2015 at 8:28 PM

BTW, Dove isn’t soap.

And Buzzfeed isn’t journalism.

“Buzzfeed” …. who the hell even came up with such a stupid name? I’d delete that.

Also, why didn’t Ben Smith resign or commit sepuku or whatever? Why hasn’t anyone called for him to do one of them? The guy’s own email admits that he’s a moron and a douchebag.

ThePrimordialOrderedPair on April 11, 2015 at 8:57 PM

.. and changing the link without any notice is WHAT, EXACTLY?

corona79 on April 11, 2015 at 9:54 PM

This is EXACTLY why I do not trust electronic publishing from news organizations. You can NOT unprint a news paper. Once it is out, it is out. This means they must be extra careful what they say and need to make sure it is correct. Electronic publishing is different. An article can disappear from the archives, or 6 months from now it can be silently edited to say something completely different without any indication at all that it has been edited. I have caught WaPo in the past doing both of these things.

Future researchers will not be able to trust our newspaper archives. What they are reading in a newspaper’s archives might not be at all what was published on that day.

Electronic news means news that changes long after publication.

Buy a hard copy newspaper. They can’t unprint it. Then can unprint a web article.

crosspatch on April 12, 2015 at 12:05 AM

BTW- who here is old enough to remember when Dove was advertised as one quarter cold cream.?

For that matter, who here is old enough to know what cold cream was??

Dolce Far Niente on April 12, 2015 at 10:59 AM

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 6:39 PM

I actually assumed (as it was the first comment on the article) that you did that… but I wasn’t 100% sure.

A /sarc tag would have been helpful to be sure. ;)

gekkobear on April 12, 2015 at 7:40 PM

rogerb on April 11, 2015 at 5:36 PM

Kudos on the thread winning comment. Extra points for audacity, especially in the very first comment. Well done!

Dolce Far Niente on April 12, 2015 at 10:59 AM

*raises my hand*

GWB on April 13, 2015 at 9:22 AM