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BuzzFeed editor outs departing colleague in tweet

A copy of a tweet published by Ben Smith. (Photo: Ben Smith/Twitter/The Desk)
A copy of a tweet published by Ben Smith. (Photo: Ben Smith/Twitter/The Desk)

Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of the content website BuzzFeed, said he was “mortified” after he published an image on Friday purporting to show a private Twitter conversation with a journalist at another news organization.

The image revealed four separate messages sent by Jana Winter, a reporter at The Intercept, inquiring about a potential job opportunity at BuzzFeed. The reporter told Smith she was in the process of leaving the site, adding that The Intercept recently adopted a new policy of not using anonymous sources in stories.

“We have (a) new policy of no anonymous sources so I can’t do shit, except go on vacation for 10 days which I’m doing Saturday,” Winter wrote.

Before Smith’s tweet on Friday, Winter had not publicly acknowledged her intention to leave The Intercept. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Smith has since deleted the tweet, but not before it was quickly spotted and criticized by fellow journalists. The tweet was first noticed by Matt Navarra and Mic Wright, a pair of reporters at The Next Web who published a redacted version of Winter’s messages to Smith.

“It was accidental, and I’m an idiot,” Smith told Wright via Twitter.

Smith did not respond to an e-mail from The Desk seeking comment.

The tweet on Friday was the latest to provoke an admission of wrongdoing by Smith, who appears to regularly apologize for mistakes either made by him or the website he commands.

Four months ago, Smith apologized to readers after he asked editors to delete two BuzzFeed posts that were critical of the site’s advertisers. In a note sent to staffers in April, Smith said his decision to delete the posts was an “overreaction” and “without any respect to our standards or process.”

That admission came several months after Smith acknowledged the site, under his direction, had deleted several old posts that were published “at a time when people (at BuzzFeed) were really not thinking of themselves as doing journalism.”

“We didn’t fully think through as we should have what the reaction would be,” he told Poynter in an interview. “We should have thought a bit more about how this would be perceived.”

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).