BuzzFeed Questioned Over Hatchet Job on Rival Following Microsoft Revelations

by Scott Douglas

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Respected journalist says his business was targeted after investigation into major BuzzFeed advertiser

PR Agency highlights viral news website's corruption scandal

Michael Leidig of CEN

Viral news web site BuzzFeed has been linked with a corruption scandal involving software giant Microsoft today (FRI), in a question filed in the Austrian Parliament.

It is the second time BuzzFeed and Microsoft have found themselves linked after it was revealed in April that BuzzFeed had axed negative posts about several advertisers, one of which was Microsoft.

This latest allegation involved an investigation by Vienna-based news agency Central European News (CEN), which revealed Microsoft had been linked in with a project that involved paying politicians to ask negative questions about Google.

Negative Light

Microsoft has spent millions campaigning for the EU to act against Google, and the paperwork linked Microsoft with the tabling of Parliamentary questions designed to put Google in a negative light.

Book published by CEN in to  BuzzFeedDetails are included in a new book by CEN staff that shows:

* CEN had been a partner working with BuzzFeed’s investigations team leader Heidi Blake when she was working for the Sunday Times Insight Team.

* CEN sells its investigations to media clients, so when Blake joined BuzzFeed she asked if CEN could send details of the latest CEN investigation for her consideration. The first one to be offered was the Microsoft story.

* After that she broke off all contact, until BuzzFeed’s investigations unit produced a 7,000 word expose branding CEN “The King of Bullshit News” and alleging that the agency made up stories.

* BuzzFeed pays as little as $35 for a story with pictures and video, yet their probe into CEN was a major investment. They tried to stage a sting operation, offering to fly a reporter over to Austria to do a focus on CEN’s award-winning investigative journalism, and drafted in staff from around the world to track down members of the CEN team past and present to interview them for material. The book asks why?

* The last time CEN and Blake had worked together it was after the agency had suggested working on an expose into the trafficking in children. CEN had pulled out and refused to go on after Blake had decided instead to simply put an advert in the paper and to buy a baby. That had resulted in Blake being exposed by a Bulgarian undercover reporter in what was one of the most embarrassing moments in the history of Insight. The book also reveals that unaware of her involvement, fake sheik Mazher Mahmood even had a team hiding outside to photograph Blake buying a baby.

‘Complete Fakes’

Questions have been raised over the motives and validity of this BuzzFeed investigation into a rival news organisation“BuzzFeed alleged in its report that they had randomly selected 41 stories they had been able to track down online. The reality is that using subterfuge, they had signed up to be a CEN news wire client and over the course of a year were sent more than 8,000 stories.

“To say they had to look anywhere else than their own news queue is simply not true. Of the 8,000 items they had in their system, they say they only looked at 41. Of these they say 11 of the stories  were ‘complete fakes’, eight more were ‘suspect’ because they added extra detail that had not been reported in other online media, and 13 others could not be verified. Only nine were ‘mostly true’.

“If that is really a random selection, how believable is it that such a volume of fake material could be published by the world’s biggest media groups for 20 years without anyone noticing?

“Our own research found that of the 41 stories they singled out, only two were incorrect and two others had incorrect pictures, but all four originated with other media and were therefore not faked by CEN staff. Not a bad record for a year of material and over 8,000 items, and hardly one to justify such a major investigation.”

PR Agency highlights viral news website's corruption scandal The finished book that includes a detailed breakdown of the various allegations and the full Microsoft story together with a selection of the leaked paperwork was handed to Austrian politician Hans-Joerg Jenewein, a member of the Austrian Federal Council for the opposition FPÖ party, who instantly tabled a Parliamentary question on the subject.

He said: “This is certainly a subject that clearly involves an Austrian MP and an Austrian based news agency and therefore is very relevant. It is a question about honest politics and about getting to the bottom of what happened here.

“This story and the investigation started with a Parliamentary question, it is somehow correct that it ends with one to find out exactly what went on.”

Contact details for Michael Leidig and Hans-Joerg Jenewein are available on request, as is an English language translation of the full parliamentary questions raised by Herr Jenewein – contact [email protected]

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Scott Douglas, of public relations agency Holyrood PR in Scotland

Scott Douglas

Scott Douglas is the co-founder of the multi award-winning Holyrood Partnership, renowned public relations agency in Edinburgh, Scotland.
As well as providing expert PR services in Scotland and the UK, the former journalist heads a team which offers a host of other professional media services.
Those include crisis management PR, photography for business PR, affordable business video, social media campaigns and strategic content planning and delivery for businesses of all sizes.

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