Last Friday night, I got into a Twitter fight with Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti about his site and the general state of journalism in America.
It kicked off because of an admittedly snarky piece I wrote about 'The Wolf of Buzzfeed' viral video making the rounds on the internet last week. In the post, I took a swipe at Peretti for trying to play along with the gag, saying he could afford to laugh at it because he was worth $200 million. Peretti read the piece, and the following conversation ensued. It was a pretty interesting back and forth:
[note: the tweets are presented as separate threads so you can see what we were both responding to]
To clarify, I thought Peretti was accusing us of sloppy journalism in reference to the long form piece I tweeted at him, not the claim that he is worth $200 million. Anyway, yes, the headline could infer that Peretti himself is worth $200 million (and Peretti should know all about misleading headlines), but I was referring to Buzzfeed - as I expounded on in the actual piece:
And why would Peretti, the cofounder of The Huffington Post, give a damn given the company he has created is worth an estimated $200 million?
Getting accused of sloppy journalism from the founder of Buzzfeed is, well, anyway....
Regardless, I don't necessarily completely disagree with Peretti - he has ploughed a considerable amount of effort into Buzzfeed's news section, going as far as to hire Politico's Ben Smith, and the late (and arguably great) Michael Hastings. But is this enough? The truth is, nobody equates Buzzfeed with serious journalism. As Gawker's Nick Denton recently wrote:
"Jonah Peretti's company is pointless."
And that's because the entire point of the site was to capitalize on (mostly Facebook) users' insatiable appetite for mind-numbingly stupid listicles. Yes, the news section is nice and they have done some decent reporting, but it's sort of like McDonalds selling salads. It is far too little, and far too late to help fix the problems they helped create in the first place.
I understand all too well the pressing need to create a profitable model for content. It is incredibly difficult, and most players in the industry are still the in the middle of trying to work it all out. Buzzfeed has created a profitable model, but at what cost? Peretti is seemingly proud of his site, and wants everyone to know about the very serious 'Just News' section. Which is great, but he can't expect anyone to take it seriously if this is on the front page of said very serious news section:
Perhaps Peretti really does care, and I have been a little unfair. But if he does, he'll have to do a lot better than this.
[Image Source: SocialMediaWeek.com]