July 28, 2014
(Screenshot from Mermaidsinmotion.com)
(Screenshot from Mermaidsinmotion.com)

BuzzFeed management didn’t approve of how fired BuzzFeed staffer Benny Johnson handled an April 2013 post on a mermaid named Linden Wolbert: “This Real-Life Professional Mermaid Will Blow Your Mind.” Over the weekend, BuzzFeed fired Johnson for a number of transgressions such as the one that tainted his image-driven piece on Wolbert. An editor’s note appended to the story reads:

This post has been corrected to properly source phrasing that was copied from … the subject’s website.

BuzzFeed takes its responsibility to readers very seriously, and plagiarism is a major breach of that responsibility. Please read our apology to readers here.

No apology is due to Wolbert the mermaid, however. “I loved the article. It’s the coolest article anyone’s ever written about me,” says Wolbert, 33, a Los Angelena who swims with a mermaid’s tail and works as an “advocate of children’s swim safety and ocean edutainment,” she says. Wolbert does business at MermaidsinMotion.com, the site from which Johnson grabbed material.

Far from being offended by Johnson’s methods, Wolbert vouches for them. “It doesn’t bother me because it’s all direct quotes from me,” she says. “Frankly, so many people get the information incorrect that I’m happy that he had completely accurate information on what I do.” Accuracy over originality, in other words.

When asked how other outlets have messed up her story, Wolbert held forth on e-mail:

Other news sources over the years have incorrectly reported that my “mechanical tail” can go at speeds of “up to 15 miles per hour.” Hilarious! I have no idea where this outrageous number came from, as it is impossible to swim that fast under one’s own power, even with a monofin. My tail is made of silicone and is in no way mechanical. All the propulsion is sourced from my core. I can, however, beat even the fastest swimmers with it!

The BuzzFeed piece on Wolbert’s mermaidism sprang from a piece done by Caters News Agency, she says. Other outlets picked up on it as well. “I got coverage all over the world in over 15 languages,” says Wolbert. She sent a note to Johnson to thank him for “covering my work,” says Wolbert, who’s not quite sure what “phrasing” Johnson borrowed.

“I have zero problem with Benny Johnson and his article. I feel sorry for him that he got canned,” says Wolbert. And she won’t be taking down the screenshot of the BuzzFeed piece (at top) that helped get Johnson in so much trouble.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.
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