BuzzFeed is being sued for $11m (£7.7m) by a news agency and its founder over an article titled “The King of Bullsh*t News”.
Central European News, founded and run by British journalist Michael Leidig, has launched a US legal action claiming that BuzzFeed’s 7,000-word article deliberately set out to damage its business.
The article, published in April last year, alleged that the agency frequently runs attention-grabbing stories that are “often inaccurate or downright false”.
CEN and Leidig allege that BuzzFeed maliciously intended to damage the news agency in order to “obtain a greater share of the market for viral news in Great Britain and elsewhere around the world”.
They are seeking $5m each, as well as a further $1.04m for lost business opportunities, and further punitive damages.
“The BuzzFeed story accuses Mr Leidig, an experienced and award-winning journalist, of the worst thing you can accuse a journalist of – fraud,” said Harry Wise, the New York-based lawyer representing CEN and Leidig. “It is unfortunate that BuzzFeed refuses to recognise that its story is completely unfounded, and has done terrible damage to Mr Leidig and his company. We look forward to demonstrating those things in court.”
Leidig, CEN’s chief executive, claims that when BuzzFeed originally contacted him about writing a piece it was under the guise of wanting to write a feature on CEN’s “laudable investigative journalism”.
He launched his legal action after failing to get BuzzFeed UK to remove the article.
“I wrote to BuzzFeed’s newly appointed editor Janine Gibson offering to settle this without any money needing to change hands, if they removed the article and apologised,” said Leidig.
“At that stage it might still have been possible to rescue certain investments and undo the damage. This olive branch was ignored and as BuzzFeed is not regulated by any independent body, the only alternative was to take legal action.”
CEN says the article has had major ramifications for its business.
It said that the Daily Mirror, its second biggest client, said it would now use CEN stories only “if it was absolutely necessary”.
“[The Daily Mirror] is now using CEN again, but at a much-reduced level from the period before defendant’s publication,” said CEN in its 16-page legal filing.
CEN said that sales of stories, which generally hovered around 900 a month before the BuzzFeed article was published, have dropped by about 30%.
The company also says it lost a “potential high six-figure investment” as a result of the article.
“We’re aware the suit was filed, but we don’t comment on potential litigation,” said a BuzzFeed spokesman.
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