BuzzFeed Just Can’t Get It Right

Why BuzzFeed made the wrong call posting the Trump dossier.

Screen Shot 2017-01-11 at 9.17.45 AMThe drama surrounding the Donald Trump dossier last night was more proof that BuzzFeed—no matter how hard it tries—can’t seem to get it right.

The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico and other news organizations all knew about the now-infamous document for months, but chose not to publish it. The reason? They couldn’t verify any of the details. Yet BuzzFeed went ahead and posted the dossier anyway.

BuzzFeed’s decision to post the document—while simultaneously acknowledging it couldn’t prove anything in it—is highly questionable and yet another hit on the company’s longing to be seen as a serious news outlet.

BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith seemed to know publishing the dossier was a bad idea, so he tweeted his “internal” note to staffers explaining the move. Smith’s main reason was transparency.

“Our presumption is to be transparent in our journalism and to share what we have with our readers,” wrote Smith. “We have always erred on the side of publishing. In this case, the document was in wide circulation at the highest levels of American government and media.”

That is true, the documents were widely-circulated. However, the details couldn’t be fact checked, so every other news outlet passed on publishing them. Last time we checked, a news organization is supposed to fact check then publish, not the other way around. If reporters just posted every single tip or document they received, what’s the point of a reporter?

We’re as anti-Trump as it gets, but what BuzzFeed did was wrong. If BuzzFeed’s editors really want the site to be taken seriously as a news outlet, they need to stop treating journalism ethics like a joke.