BuzzFeed fires Benny Johnson for plagiarism


BuzzFeed fired viral politics editor Benny Johnson after an investigation revealed “41 instances of sentences or phrases copied word for word from other sites“, BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith wrote in a note to readers Friday night.

“Benny is a friend, colleague and, at his best, a creative force, but we had no choice other than letting him go,” Smith wrote.

BuzzFeed began combing through 500 of Johnson’s posts after Twitter users @blippoblappo and @crushingbort accused Johnson of plagiarism Thursday, providing links to examples of writing that were similar to Johnson’s. At first, Smith stood by Johnson, telling Gawker’s J.K. Trotter that he was “one of the web’s deeply original writers.”

On Friday, after @blippoblappo and @crushingbort posted further examples of Johnson’s lifting work from other places, Smith told Poynter that BuzzFeed was reviewing Johnson’s work.

In his note to readers, Smith wrote that the plagiarism constituted “an act of disrespect to readers” and that Johnson’s editors were “deeply embarrassed and sorry” for misleading BuzzFeed’s audience.

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  • Larry Felton Johnson

    I’m back in college at what seems to me like a ridiculously old age, and one of the differences I see between 1969, when I first entered college, and my latest foray into higher education, is the emphasis the university is now forced to place on plagiarism. It was jarring to me, because I’d never assumed that a student would even want to plagiarize. The internet makes it both easier to plagiarize, and easier to get caught.

    I understand plagiarism among reporters even less. The only reason to be a reporter to begin with is love of writing and research. The pay isn’t that great, the job security is terrible, and journalists aren’t well loved by the public. So why take the work, then refuse to create your own output?

  • K. Permenter

    As an educator, I am grateful that BuzzFeed had the courage to do the right thing. Schools have been fighting a losing battle with plagiarism for decades: students have seen few consequences to plagiarism in the “real world.” Perhaps this signals the beginning of a renewed dedication to ethics in journalism.

  • jlese

    Very happy to see action on plagiarism.