Buzzfeed Editor, Benny Johnson, Fired for Plagiarism

Buzzfeed has fired their viral politics editor last week after discovering numerous instances of plagiarism in his writing.

Benny Johnson, 28, who began working for Buzzfeed in 2012 was found to have lifted “sentences and phrases” from other competing websites.

In an apology letter posted to Buzzfeed last Friday, editor Ben Smith explained that readers began to notice instances of plagiarism in Johnson’s writing last Wednesday.  After reviewing 500 of Johnson’s past stories, 41 instances of plagiarism were found and Johnson was let go.

Smith explained in his letter, that “plagiarism is a breach of our fundamental responsibility to be honest with you.”  He continued to explain, “plagiarism, much less copying unchecked facts from Wikipedia or other sources, is an act of disrespect to the reader.”

Smith also released an internal memo to the staff at Buzzfeed titled “What we’re doing about plagiarism at Buzzfeed.”  The memo explained that the decision to terminate Johnson was not taken lightly and that his plagiarism was “not a minor slip,” according to Politico.

“We should have caught what are now obvious differences in tone and style, and caught this early on.  We will be more vigilant in the future.  We will also change our onboarding procedures to make sure that the high standards of training that come with our fellowship program extend to everyone who arrives at Buzzfeed – and particularly to those without a background in traditional journalism,” Smith wrote in the memo.

Johnson, who does not have a traditional background in journalism – never having attended school for journalism, or having worked in the industry beyond a stint at Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, took to Twitter over the weekend to apologize to his readers.

“To the writers who were not properly attributed and anyone who ever read my byline, I am sincerely sorry.”

His apology garnered mostly angered responses from his followers with many criticizing his actions, but also, many questioned the quality of journalism that comes out of the publication.

Johnson is not the first in recent memory to either be fired or to step down from a position after being accused of plagiarism.  In the past few years there have been a handful of notable journalists who have been accused of stealing content from other writers.

As pointed out by Politico, “the Post has had two major plagiarism incidents in recent years.  The Times was home to Jayson Blair, the most notorious plagiarist in recent memory.  Politico experienced its own plagiarism scandal, which resulted in the resignation of an employee, in 2011.”

Smith finished off his apology letter to readers by stating, “we have more responsibility now than ever to get it right, to keep raising our standards, and to continue getting better.”

About Sean Flynn

Sean Flynn is a recent graduate from City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. His work has appeared in The Buffalo News, Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times 'Fort Greene Local', The Daily Meal, and
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