A few hours ago, Nick Denton took a shot at BuzzFeed in Gawker’s new commenting section.
Ben Smith’s quick-hit campaign “scoops” are about as viral as cat videos. That fits with Buzzfeed. But I suspect Smith has too much respect for journalistic accuracy to be comfortable with Jonah Peretti’s stunts. Remember that Buzzfeed’s founder made his name with fake news, like the Nike letter ([www.guardian.co.uk]). And Peretti’s craving for the quick viral fix will not be satisfied by the nourishing fare put out by prestige hires like Doree Shafrir and Matt Buchanan. Either before or after acquisition, Buzzfeed will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. (Gawker)
Denton’s main point is that meaty journalism like John Herrman’s excellent explainer on internet copyright simply can’t sit peacefully alongside this stately frog. He claims that reporters like Ben Smith can’t and won’t countenance the deluge of dishwater cats and kitten picnics. As a result, Denton hints that BuzzFeed will inevitably be torn apart by a kind of civil war pitting meme against journalist.
Denton would have a very fair point if it weren’t for the fact that every “real” journalist who has joined BuzzFeed has likely done so embracing the site’s meme driven DNA and business model. When Ben Smith was brought on as Editor-In-Chief, it’s hard to imagine that Peretti somehow sold him on the job by making the site’s future out to be something it’s not.
More than anything, Smith probably signed on believing in BuzzFeed’s business model of getting people to come for the fashionable ducks strutting in couture and stay for the real reporting. The model probably works something like this. BuzzFeed mints page views off of super viral posts (like this one that has over 2.5 million views in about a week) and then leverages the accompanying revenue to fund the kind of reporting that guys like Matt Buchanan live to do. Over time, repeat visitors start coming back not just for the adorable bear cubs but also for their daily political or tech news. Sure, a lot of folks are just looking for their next anthropomorphized animal fix and will never touch the real news. But a percentage will start making BuzzFeed their one stop shop for content on the web. Given the ridiculous reach of their viral posts, that percentage could eventually become bigger than the daily traffic for dedicated news sites. Sell some ads against that traffic, and you’ve got a pretty nice (and profitable) business.
As far as I can tell, BuzzFeed isn’t going away any time soon thanks to what appears to be pretty sound business model engineered from the ground up to take advantage of the web as it is today, not as it was two years or even one year ago. But really, BuzzFeed’s probable future success can all be traced back to one immutable law of nature. Corgis and journalism just naturally want to live together.