December 11, 2012

“You come at the king, you best not miss.”
Omar Little, The Wire

BuzzFeed is correcting and sort-of apologizing for an article that took a swing (and missed) at the reputation of one of the Internet’s most popular cartoonists, The Oatmeal creator Matthew Inman.

Jack Stuef’s attempted exposé titled “The Secrets of the Internet’s Most Beloved Viral Marketer” blew up after Inman responded on Monday.

Part of Inman’s response picking apart the claims against him.

It turned out that Stuef had cited a fake social media profile as evidence that Inman was a hardline Republican (he is not), and throughout the piece Stuef strained to paint Inman as a hypocrite.

Inman skewered the article as “so blatantly wrong it borders on being libelous,” and proceeded to pick apart the article claim-by-claim as wrong, misleading and uninformed. For the coup de grâce, Inman turns the tables and calls out an incident that led to Stuef leaving The Wonkette blog after he made a tasteless joke about one of Sarah Palin’s children having Down syndrome.

GigaOM writer Jeff John Roberts interviewed BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith, who admitted “the original article had a serious factual error, which we corrected fully and within an hour of its publication three days ago, and which we deeply regret.”

Roberts notes BuzzFeed still needs do better if it wants to be respected as a journalistic authority:

This response does not acknowledge to Inman or BuzzFeed’s readers how completely the rest of the venom-filled story collapses when the error is removed. …

BuzzFeed’s growing stature means it deserves a few minutes over the coals. The site made its name with funny cat pictures but is now a major force in serious media. In the last year, it has partnered with the New York Times to cover political conventions and launched New Yorker style long-form journalism. If BuzzFeed wants to enjoy the prestige of those publications, it will have to do a better job of owning its mistakes.

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Jeff Sonderman ( is the Digital Media Fellow at The Poynter Institute. He focuses on innovations and strategies for mobile platforms and social media in…
Jeff Sonderman

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