Ads versus content: BuzzFeed’s struggle

Posted by Sydney Price

On April 9, BuzzFeed deleted a post by Beauty Editor Arabelle Sicardi. Its removal sparked an uproar. The reason? The post criticized Dove’s new advertising campaign. The catch? Dove is a big advertiser on BuzzFeed. Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s Editor-in-Chief, quickly apologized and put the post back up, calling it an issue with unclear standards for opinion writing. Twitter users who responded to Smith’s tweet had mixed reactions. Some praised his transparency and others questioned the legitimacy of BuzzFeed’s editorial standards.

Despite the repost of her deleted work, Sicardi announced her resignation.

The Columbia Journalism Review picked up the story, boldly calling the episode a “censorship problem” and warning of the dangers of editorial and advertising content getting too cozy.

BuzzFeed appears to be having a bit of an identity crisis. The site ventured into publishing hard news stories (and hired experienced journalists to do pieces for them, according to the CJR article), but these still run next to entertaining quizzes and funny GIF lists. Much of their sponsored content, although labeled, is easily confused with staff-written content. BuzzFeed is a popular website and a lucrative business model, but it will have to do more to earn the respect of “serious” journalism – if that’s indeed what it is trying to accomplish.

How do you feel about the way BuzzFeed handled the situation? How can journalists better avoid clashes between advertising and content when they are so closely linked, especially on the web?

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6 responses to “Ads versus content: BuzzFeed’s struggle

  1. I just want to talk about censorship for a little bit. Quick rant: Censorship is handled so poorly in the media today — literally, I could not be more disgusted or disappointed. Between the period post on Instagram/Tumblr and deleting photos on Facebook of gay couples showing PDA for being offensive…I’m so peeved. This is another example of something that was taken down that was doing NO HARM TO ANYONE. If people want to read it, they read it. If they don’t, they don’t.

    Controversy is inevitable for nearly any post on any social media site. Trying to censor something for saving face or reputation is stupid. It’s already been posted, and taking it down is going to cause just as much (if not more) controversy than before.

    It’s like leaving the shooting video up the other week. If people wanted to watch it, that was up to their own discretion. I honestly think as long as a post does not deliberately put someone in danger or viciously insult someone’s personal lifestyle choices, leave it up. There’s plenty of room on the Internet. You don’t have to see stuff if you don’t want to.

  2. I definitely agree that taking the post down (and putting it back) just caused more controversy by drawing attention to it. It’s a slippery slope, and BuzzFeed now has a hole to climb out of.

  3. I think Buzzfeed just needs to figure out who their audience is and cater toward that. Yes, they have really hard-working journalists that publish news articles, but when I mention Buzzfeed to my friends, they laugh and mention the recent article about Harry Potter vs. Twilight or something to that effect. Because Buzzfeed has so much going on, it’s causing a lot of problems. If they narrow their focus a bit, maybe they won’t have to have as much advertising and can still publish good news stories.

  4. BuzzFeed does have too much going on at once. I love BuzzFeed, but their website is super cluttered. There are so many things competing for your attention that it’s difficult to give equal weight to all the items you see on one page.

  5. I’ve noticed Buzzfeed also has sponsored posts, especially quizzes, that I just scroll past. Obviously Buzzfeed needs advertising to get its funding, but censoring editorial rants about one of their sponsors is not necessarily Buzzfeed’s fault. Either way, Dove is getting some sort of publicity. And, if Dove decided they no longer wanted to sponsor Buzzfeed, I’m sure it wouldn’t be that much of a loss because Buzzfeed is a well-known website.

  6. I love Buzzfeed too, but I think by removing the post and then putting it back up just made the problem bigger than it is.

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