BuzzFeed reporter fired in wake of plagiarism allegations
BuzzFeed has dismissed a journalist after a social media outcry sparked a review of his work, and editors discovered at least 41 of his articles contained instances of plagiarism.
In a statement posted Friday, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith said dozens of articles penned by reporter Benny Johnson contained “instances of sentences or phrases copied word for word from other sites.”
“We owe you, our readers, an apology. This plagiarism is a breach of our fundamental responsibility to be honest with you — in this case, about who wrote the words on our site,” Smith wrote. “Plagiarism, much less copying unchecked facts from Wikipedia or other sources, is an act of disrespect to the reader. We are deeply embarrassed and sorry to have misled you.”
The review started after a series of articles on the blog Our Bad Media uncovered more than a dozen instances in which Johnson appeared to have copied and pasted sentences from other news outlets.
BuzzFeed also published a list of articles by Johnson, who largely wrote about politics, that contained instances of uncredited content taken from other sources.
They included a story explaining the Egyptian Revolution by way of images from the film “Jurassic Park,” and a story about famous manhunts, including the pursuit of former Los Angeles Police Department officer Christopher Dorner in 2013.
Information was copied directly from Wikipedia, the New York Times, Associated Press, the New Yorker and the autobiography of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, according to editors’ notes accompanying the articles in question.
Johnson posted an apology on his Twitter account on Saturday.
“To the writers who were not properly attributed and anyone who ever read my byline, I am sincerely sorry,” the tweet read.
A spokeswoman for BuzzFeed told the Los Angeles Times that Johnson began working for the website in 2013, but declined to say if the plagiarism incident would alter the website’s editorial standards in any way.
Launched in 2006, BuzzFeed is best known for its popular “listicles,” articles that often contain short bursts of tongue-in-cheek text accompanied by pictures, gifs, or memes that outline a particular topic. An article titled “28 Things That Are More Useful Than Mascara” ran near the top of the page Saturday afternoon.
But the website began hiring more established journalists in recent years, including Smith, a longtime political columnist who previously wrote for Politico. Earlier this week, the website published a deeply researched and lengthy feature about the culture of TMZ and its founder, Harvey Levin.
Smith acknowledged BuzzFeed’s humble beginnings in the statement, but said as the website transforms into a more serious news outlet, it must hold its staff’s work to a higher threshold.
“Today, we are one of the largest news and entertainment sites on the web. On the journalistic side, we have scores of aggressive reporters around the United States and the world, holding the people we cover to high standards,” Smith wrote. “We must — and we will — hold ourselves to the same high standards.”
Donna Shaw, coordinator of the journalism program at The College of New Jersey and a former longtime reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer, said she believes the fact that Johnson was caught highlights one of the positives of the era of online journalism.
“This is what comes of living in an age when not only everybody can be a journalist, but everybody can be an editor,” Shaw said. “When I was a young journalist, it was very difficult to get caught.”
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