IJR suspends three over Obama conspiracy post

http://www.politico.com/blogs/on-media/2017/03/independent-review-journal-suspends-3-over-obama-conspiracy-236310

Independent Journal Review has suspended three staffers including Chief Content Officer Benny Johnson after the publication last week of a conspiracy-laden post about President Barack Obama that was subsequently retracted. The post, published last week, alleged that Obama’s "surprise" visit to Hawaii could somehow have been connected to a federal judge’s ruling on President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Its publication led to the site’s congressional reporter to resign, citing the conflict between his own credibility and the site posting right-wing conspiracy theories also found on sites like InfoWars. In a statement provided to Business Insider, which first broke news of the suspension, IJR founder Alex Skatell said the writer of the original post Kyle Becker, content editor Becca Lower and Johnson had been suspended. "We are committed to an editorial team that includes voices, perspectives and geographies that span the country but equally committed to quality standards in our newsroom," Skatell said. "As we’ve grown, we’ve sought to improve on that front and last month we launched our six-person editorial operations team along with enforcement and review for all editorial content. Last week, we got it wrong and ultimately deserve all the criticism if we want to be taken seriously. As a result of last week’s failure, Kyle Becker has been suspended indefinitely as well as his supervisor and Chief Content Officer Benny Johnson and the content editor approving the post, Becca Lower. We are reviewing all the details to determine if further action is necessary, this ultimately falls on me to get right and we have to do better in the future."According to sources at the company, Becker was suspended last week, but Johnson and Lower’s suspensions were not announced until Tuesday, the same day Business Insider’s article published.This is not the first time Johnson has found himself in hot water over editorial standards — he was previously fired from BuzzFeed in 2014 for plagiarism. He then took a job with National Review before joining IJR in 2015. The suspensions come at an inopportune time for the site as it faces a harsh spotlight. Newly installed White House reporter Erin McPike was the only reporter invited to travel with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on his trip to Asia, while the rest of the State Department press corps traveled independently. McPike, who did not act as a pool reporter, recently published the transcript of her interview with Tillerson with a spot story, and her larger profile is expected to be published this week. According to current and former staffers at IJR, many at the company are seeking jobs elsewhere. Several former staffers of the site have lamented what they say is the website’s change in tone toward more "right-wing" and pro-Trump content. Some suggested things changed after the departure of Michelle Jaconi, a well-known former top producer at MSNBC and CNN, who was brought on as executive editor to professionalize the journalism content. But Jaconi, whose "blue chip" background was touted by IJR in announcing her hiring, left the site within a year. About a dozen staffers have left the site in the past year. According to sources at the company, the news division has now shrunk to be comprised of McPike, two interns and a 23-year-old deputy news editor. That division, along with the content division, which covers viral stories and video, are overseen by the six-person editorial operations team, tasked with maintaining editorial standards.Last week, Skatell defended his site from allegations its veered more to the right, saying, "We take our responsibility as a news organization on the board of News Media Alliance, Digital Content Next and the Trust Project seriously. I’m proud of our reporting team, past and present, and just as we’ve done since we were one writer and a handful of readers, we will continue to invest time and energy into strengthening our team and process."An IJR spokesperson did not immediately have further comment about the suspensions. Johnson did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment.

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