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Monday 27 March 2017

Opinion

BuzzFeed vs Trump - Fake It Till You Make It

Paul Zanetti Wednesday 11 January 2017



When I cut my teeth in the Fairfax and News Corp (then News Ltd) offices, unverified allegations that were riddled with errors were confined to the trash bin.

Not so in the new ‘click-bait-fake-news’ era.

The clickable listicle* website BuzzFeed has turned journalism on its head, focusing more on data growth than real journalism. (*listicles are articles in list-form, e.g. 21 things you didn’t know about fake news sites).

Maybe real journalism doesn’t matter anymore, or maybe it does. Readers are increasingly switching to alternative independent niche blogs while news sites are focused on casting wider nets to try to snare the thinning shoals of small fish.  

The publisher of BuzzFeed isn’t your traditional ex-Editor-In-Chief, or Ad/Sales Manager, Chief Financial Officer or Legal Counsel but a data scientist.

Back in 2014 the founder and CEO of BuzzFeed, Jonah Peretti appointed Dao Nguyen to head the rapidly growing digital publishing site on the basis of her expertise in data analytics.

BuzzFeed’s survival is dependant on a data-driven growth model - a scientific approach to content distribution.

As the former vice president of growth and data at BuzzFeed, Dao Nguyan has been critical to the company’s phenomnal growth, quintripling the unique monthly visitors to the website from 28 million to 150 million in just 2 years.

Where old media are floundering, BuzzFeed is going gangbusters.

BuzzFeed places social feeds first.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Snapchat and Youtube are its primary growth drivers.

The upstart digital publisher relies so heavily on these third party distribution platforms, that it crafts the same story multiple times to get the most out of each specific audience.

75% of Buzzfeed’s traffic comes from social media.

Its main source of revenue is derived from ‘native ads’, which are basically ’sponsored stories’ - brands pay for stories written about them (just in case you’ve ever wondered why there are no actual ads on the BuzzFeed site). BuzzFeed content writers are fed stories from the sales reps. 

Older legacy media companies are closely watching the upstart (if you can call a 10 year-old media company an upstart) and adopting its bad but highly successful habits. Locally, you now see sponsored stories (ads looking like artices) popping up on the Fairfax, Guardian and News sites (usually disclaimed by the words ‘sponsored story’).

Boiled down, the BuzzFeed formula is to publish eye-ball catching headlines that drive its data - which appeals to advertisers who pay for ads dressed up as stories to its readers.

Not all stories are paid ads - but the ‘real’ stories are selected on their propensity to fuel data.

Today’s attention grabbing headlines about Trump, sex and the Russians is pretty typical of how BuzzFeed views news.

Most (small l) liberal publications didn’t dare touch the story, for fear of losing face, again, over another unfounded Trump-bashing piece.

Not BuzzFeed. If it feeds, it leads.

Once published on BuzzFeed, the rest of the media pack have scrambled to catch up. BuzzFeed wants to be first and fast. The Trump story is now leading all the news sites.

Are the allegations true? I've no idea, but there's enough doubt about the source and validity of the allegations that BuzzFeed has headlined with the safe-word ‘allege’:

These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia

A dossier, compiled by a person who has claimed to be a former British intelligence official, alleges Russia has compromising information on Trump. The allegations are unverified, and the report contains errors.

A dossier making explosive — but unverified — allegations that the Russian government has been “cultivating, supporting and assisting” President-elect Donald Trump for years and gained compromising information about him has been circulating among elected officials, intelligence agents, and journalists for weeks.

The dossier, which is a collection of memos written over a period of months, includes specific, unverified, and potentially unverifiable allegations of contact between Trump aides and Russian operatives, and graphic claims of sexual acts documented by the Russians. CNN reported Tuesday that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to President Obama and Trump.

The document was prepared for political opponents of Trump by a person who is understood to be a former British intelligence agent. It is not just unconfirmed: It includes some clear errors. The report misspells the name of one company, “Alpha Group,” throughout. It is Alfa Group. The report says the settlement of Barvikha, outside Moscow, is “reserved for the residences of the top leadership and their close associates.” It is not reserved for anyone, and it is also populated by the very wealthy.


So there you have it.

Despite confirmation by BuzzFeed that the story is most likely crap, (‘unverified’, ‘allegations’, ‘prepared by political opponents of Trump’, ‘includes some clear errors’ and misspellings,) the website decided to headline with it.

Not because it’s truthful, or even newsworthy, but because it will drive more data growth.

Trump has responded on his preferred media platform - his twitter account:



Does BuzzFeed care?

Probably not. More likely, they'll be popping corks.

The New York City company recently raised $US200 million in a Series G funding round and rejected a buyout from the Walt Disney company a couple of years ago at a valuation around $US850 million. BuzzFeed wanted a $US1 Billion valuation.

Other legacy media companies can only look on and scratch their collective heads.

And you can bet your house the embarrassed leftist media - of which BuzzFeed is a member - along with their Hollywood chums will continue to do all it can to continue their campaign to discredit Trump.