A senior Daily Telegraph reporter wrote an anonymous front page story suggesting suicides at a rival newspaper may be connected to stress caused by commercial pressure – just days after the Telegraph itself faced allegations of blurring the lines between advertising and editorial.
The article, which was printed on the newspaper's front page under an anonymous "Telegraph Reporter" by-line, claimed advertising sales staff at the publisher of The Times have been driven to suicide by an "unreasonable pressure to hit targets".
The story then links these recent deaths to comments from a Times executive about how "commercial and editorial departments were now working closely with one another, despite public assurances from the firm that they remained entirely separate".
The decision to publish the story connecting deaths to editorial standards was branded as "despicable" by senior journalists on other publications, who suggested the story was an attempt to distract from the Telegraph's own editorial concerns.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, made the unusual decision to tweet directly at the Telegraph's chief executive and urge him to remove the story from the internet.
His comments were echoed by other journalists at the The Sun, The Times, the New Statesman and The Guardian.
BuzzFeed News is aware of the name of the individual journalist who wrote the piece but has at this stage chosen not to publish it. Several Telegraph journalists claimed the individual involved may have been put under pressure to produce the article by the newspaper's executives.
Instead, multiple Telegraph journalists urged criticism to be aimed at the management rather than at the individual who ended up writing the piece.
The anonymous article attacking a rival follows a week of criticism of the Telegraph's editorial standards. Former chief political commentator Peter Oborne quit on Monday, alleging that the newspaper allowed banking giant HSBC to influence the publication's news coverage because it was a major advertiser.
"I don't think any journalist at the Telegraph agrees with what's going on at the moment," one employee at the newspaper told BuzzFeed News, insisting they were disgusted with the decision to bring personal tragedies at a rival company into a debate about journalistic ethics.
But they urged sympathy for the Telegraph journalist who wrote the piece, because they may not have the financial means to follow Oborne's lead and walk away from their job on principle.
Other journalists at the Telegraph mixed sympathy for the author of the piece with disgust for the way the paper is being run.
"Senior staff were on [the journalist's] back all day," said one Telegraph reporter. "But we're all absolutely appalled by the article. We're being kept in the dark. We're seeing the articles at the same time as the public. We're all just confused."
The article was the second of two anonymous pieces published by the Telegraph on Friday alleging issues with the advertising departments of rival broadsheet newspapers. The first, aimed at The Guardian, alleged that the left-wing newspaper had allowed Apple to influence its homepage layout. Comments were not allowed on either piece.
One Telegraph journalist claimed editor Chris Evans had returned early from his holiday to take charge of the newspaper following the outbreak of the scandal.
The Daily Telegraph did not respond to eight phone calls requesting comment on Friday night.
Since the publication of this piece multiple Telegraph reporters have contacted BuzzFeed News to express disgust and bewilderment at their newspaper's decision to publish the story, although none were willing to speak publicly.
Three individuals with knowledge of the newsroom claimed the reporter who wrote the anonymous piece did not bring in the story themselves but was given it to write by their superiors at the newspaper.
One source in the newsroom saw the reporter arguing with the news desk over the story, while a second described a newsroom culture where journalists could not veto stories they did not want to write.
One Telegraph reporter said: "What you’ve got to understand about this newspaper is reporters don’t matter. [The journalist] only wrote the story in the sense of pressing the keys.”
Other colleagues raised questions over the original source of the story. They pointed out that unlike its rivals the Telegraph does not have a dedicated media correspondent, does not traditionally cover the activities of rival newspapers in depth and until this week had showed little interest in the advertising departments of rival publications. Journalists at the newspaper said they would not traditionally pitch such stories to the news desk.
Although some critics have attacked the Telegraph's Editor-in-Chief Jason Seiken over the decision to publish the story, individuals in the newsroom suggested the American has limited influence over the paper's editorial direction.
The Telegraph has yet to respond to requests for comment.