There’s been a bit of controversy over the past several days regarding a piece that BuzzFeed published about an executive for Uber, a large ride-sharing company. According to BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith, an Uber executive revealed that he wasn’t above digging up dirt on journalists in order to influence news coverage of the company.
Smith disclosed this admission from Uber in an 800-word exclusive on Monday. The piece is written in the third person in order to deliberately obscure the fact that Smith himself was the BuzzFeed editor who attended the off-the-record event at which the Uber executive’s remarks were made.
Ben Smith also failed to disclose his boss’s investment in Sidecar, one of Uber’s main competitors. Ken Lerer, the executive chairman of BuzzFeed, is also the managing director of Lerer Hippeau Ventures (previously known as Lerer Ventures), a New York City-based venture capital firm. Lerer, through Lerer Ventures, was an early investor in Sidecar, a ride-sharing competitor of Uber. From TechCrunch:
Sidecar is announcing this morning that it’s raised a Series A round of $10 million led by Lightspeed Venture Partners and Google Ventures. The funding follows on a seed round raised late last year from investors that include Spring Ventures, Huron River Ventures, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures, First Step Fund, Jeff Clarke, Lisa Gansky, Robert Goldberg, Jared Kopf, Konstantin Othmer, Mark Pincus, Martin Roscheisen, Josh Silverman, and Thomas Varghese.
Sidecar is also listed as a portfolio company on the web page for Lerer’s VC firm:
The seed stage deal between Sidecar and its group of investors, which included Lerer Ventures, was first announced in a press release after the deal official closed on December 1, 2011, according to Marketline/Datamonitor.
Lerer isn’t just a top BuzzFeed executive, though. He’s also an investor in the company:
In his broadside against Uber’s dirt-digging executive, Ben Smith never disclosed that his boss, one of BuzzFeed’s top executives, has an ownership stake in one of Uber’s competitors. Nor is there any such conflict-of-interest disclosure in any of BuzzFeed’s numerous other hit pieces on Uber (including this one, which was posted mere hours ago).
Lerer, the BuzzFeed executive chairman and early Sidecar investor, eagerly took to Twitter after Smith posted his Uber broadside:
Someone smart asked me why do I care so much about this Uber issue. Here is why: it’s all about the journalism.
— Ken Lerer (@KenLerer) November 18, 2014
Yep. When it comes to BuzzFeed and its conflict-of-interest-riddled hit pieces, it’s all about journalism.
Full disclosure: I have no interest, financial or otherwise, in Uber, Sidecar, Lyft, or taxi cabs. I used Uber once in New York City several months ago. The rest of the time I drive my own car, like a normal person.