BuzzFeed Deleted Three Posts Because of Business-Side Pressures

Revelation From Internal Audit

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BuzzFeed deleted three posts after receiving complaints from advertisers and members of its business-side, an internal review conducted of the site's practices revealed. The three posts were about Unilever's Axe body spray, Microsoft and Pepsi.

Removing published articles from a website without issuing a formal retraction or reason for the deletion is a major taboo among serious news and media organizations.

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's editor in chief, explained in a memo to staff over the weekend, first reported by Gawker, why the posts were deleted. Here's a portion of the memo, provided by BuzzFeed:

1) Mark Duffy, who wrote under the byline copyranter, was a blogger and ad critic at BuzzFeed in 2013. An ad agency complained, via our chief revenue officer at the time, that he was accusing them of advocating "worldwide mass rape" in an ad for Axe body spray, and that the tone of his item was over the top. I agreed that this was way outside even our very loose standards of the time. He complained on Gawker in 2013 that we deleted this post unfairly, and my correspondence with him at the time is in that post as well.

2) Tanner Ringerud led BuzzFeed's Creative department in its early days; he moved over to editorial on January 25, 2013. On March 5, he published a post making fun of a Microsoft product, Internet Explorer. He had worked on a Microsoft ad campaign, and BuzzFeed's chief revenue officer complained about the post to me. We agreed that it was inappropriate for Tanner to write about brands whose ad campaigns he'd worked on. We set up a "cooling off period" in which he wasn't allowed to write about any brands he'd worked with for six months. We've made that a policy in the two other cases in which a staffer moved from the business side to editorial — one BuzzFeed News writer and one BuzzTeam illustrator.

3) On January 27, 2014, the head of BuzzFeed's creative division complained that Samir Mezrahi had taken a gif from a Pepsi advertisement created by BuzzFeed's creative team and turned it into a Vine without indicating where it had come from. I asked Samir not to use advertising our business side had created in an editorial context. Four days later, he published a post titled "These Brands Are Going To Bombard Your Twitter Feed On Super BowlSunday," which was a mix of criticism and praise for a long list of brands on Twitter. I again heard a complaint from our business side about Pepsi, which was the first item in the list, and whose Twitter feed they were making content for during the Super Bowl.

We'd never previously considered the case of an editor would be writing about an ad that was produced by our creative team, but we decided it was inappropriate and deleted the post. I wrote Samir that night that "there just has to be a pretty high bar around writing about advertising that is going on in the building. It creates an appearance of a conflict I'm really uncomfortable with."

Mr. Smith goes on to note that the site's editorial standards now specifically state that editorial staffers "don't write about ads that are running on BuzzFeed unless they are genuinely newsworthy."

BuzzFeed relies almost entirely on advertising for its revenue, which topped $100 million last year. Almost all of it came from so-called native advertising in the form of articles, lists and videos, which the site's creative-services department helps create while working closely with brands and their media agencies.

It's also sought to bolster its reputation as a hard-hitting news organization, hiring editors and reporters to staff up a newsroom and introducing editorial standards. The goal of the internal review was to determine why thousands of BuzzFeed posts were deleted before the site enacted those standards in January that said, partly, don't delete posts.

But the review also comes in the wake of BuzzFeed removing a post critical of an advertising campaign from Dove, which has advertised on the site. That happened two weeks ago. In February, BuzzFeed deleted a post critical of the board game Monopoly, whose parent company, Hasbro, had just inked a joint marketing campaign with the site to promote Monopoly's 80th anniversary.

Amid the fall-out from these revelations -- which Gawker was first to report -- Mr. Smith sent a memo to staff assuring them that the Dove and Monopoly posts were not removed due to advertiser pressure. Despite his assurances, the woman who wrote the Dove post, Arabelle Sicardi, resigned from the site last week.

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