This week has been a week of bad news and publicity for BuzzFeed News and a victory for Accuracy in Media and honest, ethical journalism. Accuracy in Media called out BuzzFeed News for a poorly-written and borderline-dangerous headline, which it stealth-edited and changed, but BuzzFeed also told its staff that it has to slash employee pay due to falling company revenue.
The Daily Beast reported the BuzzFeed told its employees that it will cut their pay during the coronavirus crisis due to falling advertising revenue. Like many media organizations, BuzzFeed relies on advertising revenue to make money and pay its bills. In an internal memo circulated this week, BuzzFeed said that it will reduce salaries for multiple salary brackets ranging from as high as 14-to-25-percent for executives to 5-percent for the lowest-paid staffers.
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told staff, “I will not be taking a salary until we are on the other side of this crisis.” Peretti told the staff that salary reductions were a way to hold off on layoffs, in addition to limits on hiring and travel, and reducing real estate costs.
Add this news to the news that Accuracy in Media successfully pressured BuzzFeed News, an affiliate of BuzzFeed, to change its headline. Its initial headline read, “A Man Died After Self-Medicating With A Drug Trump Promoted As A Potential Treatment For The Coronavirus.” After Accuracy in Media’s e-mail campaign called out BuzzFeed, the headline changed to, “A Man Died After Self-Medicating With A Form Of A Drug That Trump Promoted As A Potential Treatment For The Coronavirus” without any editor’s note on the headline change (also known as a “stealth edit”).
The original headline was poorly-written because it insinuated that the drug named chloroquine was potentially dangerous for one’s health. Public health officials said that it could be the cure for the coronavirus, but more tests have to be conducted to verify its effectiveness. Unfortunately, a senior citizen ingested fish tank cleaner that had elements of chloroquine in it, but it was not the drug itself. Yet BuzzFeed News’s original headline misled readers on chloroquine’s effectiveness, although the website understood that it was not the cause of the man’s death.