[UPDATED] Claim: Washington Post’s Thought Catalog piece was written by ‘a fanatical hater’ of the site

Thought Catalog publisher Chris Lavergne tells his staff that October was “an amazing success” for the website, but “naturally with the success comes rancor.”TC He claims the Washington Post’s October 21 piece on Thought Catalog “was filled with condescending rhetoric, suspect facts, and strange omissions.” He adds that Post reporter Tim Herrera is “a fanatical hater of Thought Catalog.” Lavergne wants the newspaper to disclose that “so that future readers know the context and stated bias of the reporter.”

That’s not going to happen, though; Post executive editor Marty Baron says the piece “was a fairly straightforward and expansively reported …[and] anything but inflammatory.”

The memo:

From: Chris Lavergne
Date: Fri, Oct 31, 2014 at 6:10 PM
Subject: October: Our Best Month Ever (With One Concern)
To: “all@thoughtcatalog.com”

Thought Catalog, and key partners:

October was an amazing success for Thought Catalog. We launched our corporate website at www.thought.is and added two new members to the Thought Catalog family. We also had over 40 million readers this month — a new record for the site. Thought Catalog Books published a memo detailing the success of the division and our experiment with paid reading experiments. Every month things get more exciting.

Chris Lavergne

Chris Lavergne

Naturally with the success comes rancor. I know a lot of you were bewildered by the recent Washington Post piece on Thought Catalog. Tabloid blogs are welcome to slander and sensationalize things. It’s the web; pretty much anything goes. The Washington Post, though, is different. They are a respected journalistic establishment with a publicly posted code of ethics, and this piece clearly violates many of those tenets. It was filled with condescending rhetoric, suspect facts, and strange omissions. We recently learned this behavior made sense because the reporter misrepresented himself and was not a neutral third party but a fanatical hater of Thought Catalog for the last three years. The reporter, among other things, was the creator of a Tumblr called “Thought Catalog Haters.”/CONTINUES

Per the below letter, we’ve asked that the Washington Post disclose Herrera’s prior history with Thought Catalog so that future readers know the context and stated bias of the reporter. We hope for the best – it’s quite possible Herrera did this without the knowledge of his superiors or editors and jeopardized the Washington Post’s reputation for his own gain, and they will now take the proper steps.

Nevertheless, it’s possible there will be no action. This is why we wanted you to see the letter and to know that we’ve attempted to remedy it as best we can. There is no reason for any of us to take a story such as this personally. It’s not up to par with the Washington’s Post’s normal standards and journalistic integrity; it was just a fledgling journalist getting his biggest story to date and throwing his responsibilities out in the process.

We hope this addresses any concerns (or the concerns of family and friends that read the article). As always, feel free to contact me with any questions.

Best,
Chris

——————————————————

[Lavergne’s letter to the Post]

I’m writing with concerns about an article published October 21, 2014:

“Inside the contradictory world of Thought Catalog, one of the Internet’s most reviled sites”

Tim Herrera, the author of this article, has a long history of animosity toward Thought Catalog, including that he ran a blog called “Thought Catalog Haters.” I was made aware of this after the article’s publication. Evidence below:

* Thought Catalog Haters Tumblr, active from January – August 2012 (link | screenshot)
* Tweet in which Herrera announces he ran Thought Catalog Haters (link | screenshot)
* 20 more tweets in which Herrera expresses animosity toward Thought Catalog (screenshot)

During Herrera’s research on this article, he requested interviews with people that weren’t comfortable talking to him due to his history of obsessive vehemence toward Thought Catalog. One woman on our staff was so taken aback by her interaction with Herrera that she asked him to identify his editor to ensure her words weren’t misrepresented in the article. Herrera never responded and omitted her voice from the piece.

The piece is rife with points I’d dispute as biased or unfair, but I don’t believe we must do a full deconstruction to get to the crux of the matter. The headline of the article states that Thought Catalog is “reviled”, but it’s one of the most popular websites in country. Our staff writers receive thousands of pieces of fan mail every month, and we have a book division where many pay for our writers’ stories. It begs the question, “reviled by whom?” Tim Herrera certainly reviles Thought Catalog, but his piece was presented as journalism rather than opinion.

My guess is that you didn’t know Herrera’s history with Thought Catalog, particularly “Thought Catalog Haters,” prior to the publication of this piece, as it is a clear breach of the Washington Post’s Standards and Ethics, and of the journalistic principles of neutrality and fairness.

Regardless of what other actions you may take, disclosing to your readers Herrera’s history regarding Thought Catalog is a critical and necessary step toward the journalistic integrity the Washington Post is known to uphold. We would sincerely appreciate a disclosure so that readers of the piece have the appropriate context in which to place Herrera’s editorial critiques.

Here’s Post executive editor Marty Baron’s response to Thought Catalog’s co-publisher:

From: Baron, Marty
Sent: Monday, November 03, 2014 8:54 AM
To: Alex Magnin
Cc: Chris Lavergne
Subject: RE: Lack of Disclosure from a Post Employee

Dear Mr. Magnin:

This is to respond to your note Friday afternoon about Tim Herrera’s story on The Intersect blog regarding Thought Catalog.

Herrera’s story was a fairly straightforward and expansively reported piece. It was anything but inflammatory, and you cited no errors.

He noted, just as you have, that Thought Catalog is a very popular destination on the web – describing it as a “publishing powerhouse,” one of the web’s 50 most-visited sites, and a “behemoth” in online publishing. Even so, the site is also the target of considerable animosity, as a web search will attest. There is no contradiction in being widely read, even popular with many, and reviled by many.

While Herrera did participate with others for a brief period in running a Tumblr that aggregated the views of Thought Catalog “haters,” the piece that was published does not at all suggest that he is a “fanatical hater.” Many people, with varying views, were quoted about Thought Catalog. The perspective of the site’s leadership was amply and fairly represented.

As is often the case, not everyone interviewed was quoted. If someone interviewed had an unusual reaction to his questions, we’re not sure what accounts for that. We’re not aware of any similar reaction from others.

It’s worth noting that The Intersect is a blog that allows for writers with a point of view. Thought Catalog allows for the same – only to a far greater degree.

Sincerely,

Martin Baron
Executive Editor
The Washington Post

* Inside the contradictory world of Thought Catalog (washingtonpost.com)
* Earlier: A “beautiful company” that gives voice to hate speech (facebook.com)
* Earlier: The five types of posts you find at Thought Catalog (gawker.com)


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