It’s no secret that all media outlets–print and digital alike–are thirsty for pageviews and subscriptions.
Lofty commitments to journalism and the truth aside, this is a business. , seemed to suggest that the magazine had entered into a partnership with Bumble, the popular woman-centric dating app.
The app’s founder, 28-year-old Texan Whitney Wolfe Herd, would be featured on the cover, and Bumble would use paid social media promotion to boost the story.
In an interview this week, Taliaferro denied such a deal existed, but emails obtained by CJR suggest that some sort of arrangement had been made, or that at the very least, Taliaferro was heavily involved in the social media strategy of a company featured in the pages of his own magazine.
staffers reached out to CJR after the meeting, shaken by the nonchalant announcement of what they saw as a breach of journalistic ethics.
“It was such a clear violation of one of journalism’s most fundamental ethical guidelines.
And to hear him brazenly admit this deal in the meeting, bragging about it like it was some sort of major coup, it was like he truly didn’t understand why it was actually bad,” said one staff member, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation.
“To see this happen at , which is known for its high standards, made me wonder where the line would eventually be drawn for this kind of thing.
” Another staff member did not believe that Bumble representatives had been shown the story, which The Bumble feature sticks mostly to the origin story of the company and Herd’s profesional ventures, delving into her personal life only occasionally (to explain the legal fallout she had with Tinder, which she co-founded, and to gloss over her shift as a disbeliever in feminism to one of its chief marketers, for example).As the #Me Too movement ushered in a seismic shift in the way we talk about not just sexual harassment and assault, but dating and sex culture, too, Bumble’s focus on women makes the app uniquely newsworthy right now.The social network has over time expanded to include same-sex dating, people looking for business partners and a best friend match up, and in August, it staffers again, in an all-staff meeting on January 24.This time, staffers say he informed the newsroom that they’d misunderstood him.He insisted there had been no deal made with Bumble, that no promotion of the story had been promised by the representatives of the company or Herd prior to the decision to make it the cover story, and that no monetary amount to be spent on promotion had been promised.In the interview with CJR, Taliaferro explained the reversal: “We made the decision to consider putting Whitney on the cover because she was the most recognizable and star of the [February Innovators] package.We were talking with her team and we told her what we were thinking.They said it meant a lot to Whitney and said they would promote the story,” said Taliaferro. Our publicist and theirs worked together on how to roll it out.It’s not really different than what we do with most of our covers where we try to get attention on them.”Staff members who spoke to CJR under the condition of anonymity confirmed that the Herd profile had long been discussed as a potential cover, making the decision to become involved in the promotional efforts confusing. “No money has changed hands.”In an email sent on January 23 to associates of Bumble, Taliaferro appears to be heavily involved in their social media strategy, referring to a “plan” and emphasizing how high the stakes for the story are.One staffer said the courtship “cheapens” the staff’s efforts to keep the magazine’s integrity intact. In a different, undated email, a Bumble representative named Suzanne appears to refer to a prior arrangement and proposes that Bumble “invest in some paid social advertising.” ICYMI: The story Buzz Feed, ] and is part of what we promised,” she writes.Taliaferro confirmed the legitimacy of these emails, dismissing them as little more than a “nitty gritty” conversation meant to help coordinate a social media push, and nothing more.“This isn’t confusing at all. They haven’t paid us anything,” Taliaferro says, adding that had he participated in these conversations, he’d be more worried.