BuzzFeed Decides Criticizing Awful Books Is Too Mean

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Put away the hatchets, BuzzFeed book reviewers. The Internet's foremost listicle-maker will now be taking its 'No Haters' policy over to its rising books section, as BuzzFeed's new books editor said today that he will only accept warm and cuddly book reviews. It's a sad day for train wreck-loving, Twitter-fight sparring, #spatwatch-following people across the web.

"If you can’t say something nice, don't say nothing at all," BuzzFeed's first books editor Isaac Fitzgerald told Poynter this morning in explaining why the section would eschew negative reviews, citing the "Bambi Rule" from the old Disney movie. "Why waste breath talking smack about something?" he explained. "You see it in so many old media-type places, the scathing takedown rip."

buzzfeed hatchet"Why?" he asks, but the answer is pretty clear — they're fun! Even if they're less common than they used to be, a good hatchet job is like a 10-car pileup; readers can't help but watch as a reviewer shreds into a book for its author's weak argument, lazy intellectualism, or shoddy transcribing. Just this week, we watched eagerly as Jeff Bezos' wife took down a book about the rise of Amazon in an Amazon review. Everyone loves a good takedown.

Recommended Reading

But they're not only fun, they're worthwhile. Literary critics — a profession and field in and of itself — can't simply ignore bad books, particularly ones at the top of the bestsellers list (see: Malcolm Gladwell). Promoting a list of What You Should Be Reading necessarily requires a foil of What You Don't Need to Read, and by ignoring the latter we lose what makes being in the former group so special. And it's not like being ignored and forgotten is so great for the author, either personally or monetarily. It wasn't that long ago that Reza Aslan's Zealot rose to national prominence largely because of an attempted (and failed) hatched job by Fox News, a rise promoted by none other than BuzzFeed itself. 

Despite BuzzFeed's well-known claim of allowing "No Haters" within its offices, the site's quantity of extra negative compared to extra positive articles is fairly equivalent. Note the number of results of looking at articles with "best thing ever" against the "worst thing ever."

buzzfeed best thing ever

buzzfeed worst thing ever

That difference of 791 "best" articles compared to 639 "worst" articles really isn't all that large, so it's not as if BuzzFeed is entirely opposed to writing a harshly-headlined story. I'd guess that "The 12 Most Cringe-Worthy Hatchet Jobs of Famous Books" would likely be a pretty popular post. Their loss, it seems.

(Hatchet image from Randy Robertson via Flickr.)

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