Forbes Frat Party Drama Symptom of a Bigger Editorial Problem
Forbes recently found itself on the wrong side of the national dialogue around college campus sexual assault when site contributor Bill Frezza posted a blog entitled, "Drunk Female Guests Are the Gravest Threat to Fraternities." The post was quickly removed from Forbes.com, but not before generating controversy and leading to strongly worded responses on both sides of the discussion from Bloomberg VIEW, TIME and The Boston Globe, in addition to the usual suspects.
Regardless of where you stand on the frat bros vs. drunk girls debate, there is a bigger journalistic issue at play. How could a blog post of this nature end up on Forbes.com, a publication that purports to be the must-read magazine for business leaders and billionaires? And how much editorial control does Forbes actually exert over its hundreds of contributors?
Forbes Contributors are a diverse group with a rather amorphous label, encompassing both veteran journalists like Bill Baldwin and Ken Rapoza, juxtaposed with a hodgepodge of consultants and miscellaneous other self-declared subject matter experts with an occasional penchant for self promotion.
For those who are not actual journalists or freelance writers, the qualifications to become a Forbes contributor are vague, bringing into question whether or not these writers actively abide by journalistic ethics, particularly when they are explicitly paid according to clicks.
The creation of the Forbes Contributor network was intended to give Forbes a competitive edge in the blogosphere where it's up against the Huffington Posts of the world. Without adequately scaling its editorial staff to keep its many non-staff writers in-line and on-brand, however, Forbes runs the risk of tarnishing its reputation every time one of its contributors self-publishes.
Frezza's controversial blog post wasn't his first off-kilter rodeo. Last month, he had a piece entitled, "Ban Kegs From Fraternity Parties? Require Them Instead!" It's click-bait at best; but an ongoing stream of pieces like it from the Forbes Contributor network just don't bode well for a publication that is known for serious journalism.