BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith was mostly contrite on Monday when he explained the site’s prolific removal of old posts.
He told the media news site Poynter that BuzzFeed’s quiet deletions, which were first exposed this summer by Gawker’s J.K. Trotter, could have been handled better and admitted that criticism of the practice is “valid.”
Smith also elaborated on the motivations behind the removal of thousands of posts. Writers at the site were instructed to review their work from before 2012 and save what they wanted, he said. In certain cases, posts were scrubbed because a punch-line had grown stale.
Smith views the decision to remove the old content, and the scrutiny and criticism of how it was done, as part of BuzzFeed “growing up.”
He said there was no central process for deciding what stayed and what was deleted. The early BuzzFeed writers decided for themselves. They were told that anything they wanted to save had to have any broken links or missing fields for the CMS filled in, according to Smith.
“Many of the older stories are technically broken and some of them were kind of done as inside jokes,” he said. Others had jokes that “didn’t age well,” or were early games made in Flash.
Trotter reported last week that some of the deleted posts “clearly veered into plagiarism territory,” making their removal all the more troubling. What’s more, the news of the deletions coincided with the firing of former BuzzFeed viral politics editor Benny Johnson, who was sacked late last month after several instances of plagiarism were spotted in his work.
Smith told Poynter that some of the deleted posts had insufficient sourcing and attribution, but he said that was not the primary reason for the removal.