BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith Says Uber Hit Piece Didn’t Need Investment Disclosures

BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith Says Uber Hit Piece Didn’t Need Investment Disclosures

A few days ago, BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith had a big scoop revealing that a senior Uber executive thought it would be a good idea to do opposition research on journalists and expose their private information to the public. But it wasn’t long before Smith himself came under fire for not disclosing that execs of his own site were investors in Uber’s rivals.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed posted a story about a private dinner with senior Uber executive Emil Michael that was also attended by reporters. Smith reported that during the meal Michael said that transportation smartphone app company Uber should do opposition research on reporters who have criticized the company. Michael said that Uber should then release that information to the public.

Michael later apologized for his comments and Uber released a statement saying that the company has done no such research and would never do so.

The story brought quite a lot of criticism onto Uber, certainly. But it wasn’t long before others began to point out that executives of BuzzFeed have been investors in Uber’s rivals. Writer Ben Smith then came under fire for not disclosing this fact in the original story.

Critics revealed that BuzzFeed chairman Ken Lerer has invested in Uber rival Sidecar and Andreessen Horowitz, one of BuzzFeed’s own investors, is backing Uber rival Lyft. These investments, critics say, means that Smith should have disclosed this information to readers in the original story.

After a day of criticism, Smith came out to insist that his story did not need any disclosure notices about BuzzFeed executives’ investments.

The writer told re/code’s Peter Kafka that revealing the investment info of his own site’s people makes no sense.

We follow the traditional, strict media practice of making a disclosure when we write about our investors, something we feel our readers should know as a matter of transparency. Like media companies from the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg to the Washington Post, we do not have a newsroom conversation about, or expect our reporters to be aware of other investments made by our board members and investors. Investment has no bearing and no influence on our reporting, as I think our day in, day out coverage–and certainly our coverage of Uber–makes that clear.

We also have a strict policy against reporters investing in companies they cover, a higher standard than the convention in some of the Silicon Valley press of allowing reporters to invest if they disclose it, something that I think can erode readers’ confidence rather than reinforcing it.

BuzzFeed chief of staff Ashley McCollum agreed saying that there is “zero correlation or connection between investment in BuzzFeed and our reporting.”

Still, not everyone is satisfied with Smith’s claims that BuzzFeed’s investors are irrelevant to the Uber story.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston or email the author at igcolonel@hotmail.com.


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