BuzzFeed is carrying out a review of the work of one of its reporters after allegations of plagiarism surfaced on a blog titled “Our Bad Media.” Twitter users @blippoblappo and @crushingbort furnished a series of side-by-side comparisons between the writing of BuzzFeed’s Benny Johnson and various sites across the Internet, revealing strong similarities.
The examination of Johnson’s oeuvre came after Johnson himself, who specializes in “viral politics” coverage, scolded others for plagiarism:
Repeat after me: Copying and pasting someone’s work is called “plagiarism” http://t.co/0Ik1dPXq1O
— BuzzFeed Benny (@bennyjohnson) July 23, 2014
Here’s a screenshot of one overlap in Johnson’s work, from “Our Bad Media”:
After that revelation, BuzzFeed added this footer to the Johnson story: “CORRECTION This piece included a sentence that was not attributed to its source, a post on Yahoo Answers. The sentence has been rewritten and attribution has been added.JULY 24, 2014, 1:16 p.m.” The “Our Bad Media” piece alleged yet other instances of improper usage, and BuzzFeed appeared to agree with its conclusions, as it issued other corrections as well.
Gawker’s J.K. Trotter picked up the story and secured this comment from Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s top editor: “We’re grateful to @blippoblappo and @crushingbort for pointing out these serious failures to properly attribute two quotations and to credit a source in a third post. We’ve corrected the posts. Benny Johnson is one of the web’s deeply original writers, as is clear from his body of work.”
The “deeply original writer” thing prompted snickerdom on Twitter, given the nature of the transgressions that BuzzFeed had acknowledged. Yet the bigger misstep here on Smith’s part was to express such confidence so quickly in his reporter. As any casual follower of plagiarism scandals knows, where there are one or two instances of wrongdoing, there can be many more. A news organization’s common response to accusations of this sort is to vet the staffer’s entire archive.
Today @blippoblappo and @crushingbort presented further allegations of plagiarism by Johnson. After they surfaced, the Erik Wemple Blog contacted Smith about the situation. Wasn’t he too quick to so fully endorse Johnson’s stuff? Smith replied: “There are three serious instances of plagiarism in this new post. We’re reviewing Benny’s work.”