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BuzzFeed News' Ben Smith on covering Trump and making money


What does inside driven messaging look like for sales like a whole lot. More deals fast. Jump on high intent leads in the moment with intercom calm the Business Messenger that extends the reach of your team twenty four seven intercom creates more opportunities for you by booking meetings and collecting data from leads automatically go take intercom user elegant themes big now convert twenty five percent of leads through Intercom Messenger deals. Don't wait get them with intercom. GO TO INTERCOM INTERCOM DOT COM slash deals. That's intercom dot com slash deals. This episode is sponsored by Jay Street the political home for pro. Oh Israel pro-peace Americans Jay Streets National Conference October Twenty sixth or twenty nine th in Washington D. C. J. Street is teaming up with Tommy Vitor and Ben Rhodes host of pod. Save the world to bring you thought provoking discussions with experts policymakers and two thousand twenty candidates on the future of Middle East policy learn more at j street dot Org Slash box and save twenty percent off your conference registration when you use the code vox at checkout again. That's a Jay street dot org slash vox and code box to save twenty percent. This is recode media. Peter Kafka that is me talking to New York quickly. We're going to go back in time to Austin in Texas where I talked to Ben. Smith Buzzfeed There's a lot of stuff we talked about that was in the news then still in the news. Now you're gonNA like it but before we go there one quick note. If if this is the kind of interview you like hearing and you do 'cause. You're listening to this podcast. You will want to join me at code media November eighteenth and nineteenth in Hollywood. We're GONNA talk to people just like Ben Smith people who run big important media and tech organizations who do we have their John Stinky mortar meeting. You've heard of that. Nancy DUBUC runs vice vice Roger Lynch Rods Conde NAST. Caroline Everson runs revenue for facebook if you're interested in media and tech if you're listening to this podcast this is the kind of thing you want to check out. You can go to our website recode dot net and find out more see you soon everyone. I'm Peter Kafka. This is the guy who came to see this as Ben Smith. I've been that was a very early this morning to make this to make us appearance. Thank you wouldn't miss it in return for you getting up at the crack of dawn. I WanNa give you some some airtime. Every time here you tweeted this morning said I suppose it would be churlish to write a letter to the editor of the whistle blowers account insisting he credit buzzfeed news for some great reporting to whistle blowers account to buzzfeed any length I mean I guess I probably some of you have also probably we spent the morning reading the this very well written whistleblower report on trump's pressuring the president but there's a large subplot of it is Rudy Giuliani on a running around eastern Europe with a couple of Ukrainian guys trying to make mischief Andrew and terrible for democracy. Yes it's kind of a Gonzo screwball comedy and anyway that would note number nine and subsequent footnotes in the whistle blower report refers to a story story by the Organized Crime and corruption reporting project which was a collaboration he just cited the OCC are you know appropriately their account found and but I would've had he been have been news article. I would have written to him and said Hey could you please include a hyperlink to Bussey News. Actually that was our reporter who got the reporting Mike Saleh and so explain what what the story was just. It's important for context. You know the story and I think it's it's a complicated story that I think I probably don't want to narrate it here but just basically it. It's the Giuliani has been you know on trump as trump's personal lawyer running a private investigation instigation into Joe Biden based on allegations that a former Ukrainian prosecutor general made and then retracted about that he had been fired to cover up up for Joe Biden's sons misdeeds in Ukraine. That narrative appears to be totally false. Joe Biden's son hundred was making fifty thousand dollars a month on on the board of a company that is the I don't know what they were paying him for or being. Remember the good Gig often and every adult children and of presidents and vice presidents. Somebody's always getting into trouble so that the reason I think it's good to start talking about the whistleblower report in your reporting here Thursday morning when people hear this in their ears it'll be a week later and who knows at that point yes but today it's the president pence will just be settling in could could be and it sums up a couple of things one that you guys do very serious reporting. Even though people still think of Buzzfeed is the place for cat logistical etc and you guys do various various reporting a serious enough that a whistle blower is citing you in a memorandum not crediting you properly but he's still studying your work because of doing real work. and I think that you feel that even twenty nine thousand nine buzzfeed news is not getting enough credit both from the general public and even from the media elites in Washington the leads for doing real work. Oh actually wouldn't say that I don. I think actually at this point we are getting enough credit and certainly from people who care there are a lot about the news and follow the news and are obsessed with the news. I think their corners of the national security establishment I would say that there are a little backward looking in their approach and don't appreciate us the way they ought to but no I think in general I think people who care a lot about the kinds of stories we cover which isn't every store. We don't have a big Wall Street bureau but we're all over verse stories about the Internet about misinformation about you know elements of the trump Russia story tech in silicon valley elements of the media story competing with you guys yeah yeah no we we we people have sorta stopped making the catch in that contest but we always kind of liked the cat jokes. We also continue to really own the cat story. I can't remember took a screen shot at your your front page last night and you did had an impeachment story there but there was also a here are twenty tweets. You can enjoy for free and the cat video. It's the nature of buzzfeed right your cat stories. You'RE GONNA GONNA happen. Although it's interesting over time. It's changed a bit. I think if you we've been having this conversation five years ago I would've said you know people like crazy mix of stories. Everyone wants that. It's what you see in your facebook newsfeed and isn't that great. I think that may have been true at the time it's not true. I think people are disoriented and alienated by that kind of totally confused confused media space and really see the downside of it now. We've definitely done a lot to separate things that we used to jam together. We have a separate buzzfeed news site in URL and it's mixed into the bus insight but also just the branding much clearer and all those things that I think is sort of what we heard from our audience right so you think there is a distinct buzzfeed news audience that comes to buzzfeed news news to read Buzzfeed News as opposed to someone who just got something well. There's a bunch of different ways but you'd think they'd there's a core part of your audience. That gets that what you do is different than here. Are Some great things to decorate your dorm room with say I think yeah I think in general people are pretty. Our audience knows what they're getting but didn't they also want to know what they're getting. This is serious news story. Is this a joke you. You want to know the difference in history. When did you come to Buzzfeed January first twenty twelve so he was cat was to goals then totally entire absolutely when when we started with and I wrote some high minded announcement about how we're gonNA cover politics the what's now you know the most boring election in American history but at the time seemed exciting the Romney Obama election and I wrote all these words and published it and they were all like stacked on top of each other and I and I called up Chris Hansen our head of product and said what the Hell and he said Oh we've never really published words before and so if you write that many words they just all kind of like fall together but then the thing that was amazing totally different from any experience that ever had before was that by three in the Mo- midnight and he was sitting next to me at our Christmas Day New Year's Eve party and by two in the morning it was all unscrambled and fine because they had people who knew how to do things on the Internet yeah and so again you came from a background where you've been online. You're sort of an early blogger. You Got Digital. You Got Online's. You didn't need to convinced that but I'm assuming it took convincing to get you to come to the cat logistical place where you wanted to cover politics and eventually you know at the highest levels yeah yeah you know I mean when I was probably vaguely aware of buzzfeed but had not been a big consumer of it when I was a political one track mind political reporter and and when I met Jonah Peretti my boss who's who thinks very very abstractly about media and I think maybe better than anybody has been able to kind around the corners of the media landscape but also speaks very abstractly about meeting. We had this launch and I really had no idea what he was talking about. You know social media and and distribution things where I was like no I'm trying to write stories and have people on twitter. Read them. You know like that was sort of the extent of my sophistication and I kind of went home and I tried to explain to my wife that had lunch with this guy and really understood what he was saying but I think he offered me a job. obviously it was not gonNa take it and she was like she also. Kinda works numbers and there's like no and here's what he was saying. You should take that job but the thing that was what I was doing shared with. What buzzfeed was doing them? ESPEC- was experimenting with the idea that what you're what most most people were doing was opening up a browser not your phone and go to facebook DOT COM twitter dot Com Pinterest Pinterest yet but stumble upon dot com these sort of big kind of aggregated sites and social networks and that your challenge as a as a publisher was not primarily to build your own destination it was to do stuff that would cut through on those platforms forms and in this sort of more abstract sense that was on facebook that was lists of dogs who were disappointed in you and twitter scoops and that was what I like to do and I had noticed that nobody was coming to my blog anymore. I was just using the blogs or repository for stuff that I would hope would go viral on twitter because it was new when they hired you. Media twitter got very excited did and that was part of the fun of it hardly find in main reason I took the sometimes I'm correctly described as skeptical or maybe even cynical. Oh I've seen this playbook before. Eddie came from Huffington Post Huffington Post used to have a bunch of weird stuff and at some point they decided they wanted to be taken more serious than they went on hiring people from brand name obligations as you can capitalize all those letters and then the idea was people like me would stop asking questions about it and advertisers would take them more seriously. What happened is all those people left Huffington post after a little while the show officially serious people. There wasn't really that a hardworking block. They're hiring serious people. They're they're trying to level up this cosmic with my point okay interesting. This is not really what they do. They're really in the business a little sheen on top but but over time you built this giant organization how that happened. I mean I I I think headed not worked. We started small rightly. We started basically covering politics tack a couple of things and had we had had worked. We would have stopped. I hadn't really thought past the election but we were really one of the defining running out list of the two thousand twelve election broke a lot of news understood the ecosystem and covered it better than I think a lot of our competitors and grew had a lot of a lot of growth you know revenue growth traffic growth and so I think there was a sense that we should double down. I do remember in two thousand fourteen. I was should've used this story. Reporter from Reuters came by engine and like isn't it kind of expensive to employ all these reporters and he said I think not in all seriousness yeah you know we when I hired. I thought maybe I'll just I have him like go to conferences and like this and talk about all the journals doing but not actually do we have so much cheaper and that seems like what a lot of people do and then. I thought I fuck it. Let's do it for real real. Did I never thought I never knew how was it depends how you count. This may be the peak in some by some accounts video. We're doing a lot of video pressures and in terms of reporters. It was probably one eighty one ninety now. It's more like one fifty so that's bigger than a a lot of newsrooms. Yeah I mean it's bigger than a lot of digital newsrooms. I mean the New York Times. Just to compare has more than seventeen hundred people so it's tiny by the standards of the people who we who really really think of our competitors punch above your way compared to the New York Times but compared to lots of daily newspapers probably the size of a mid size metro daily or smaller and and you've had to shrink and we can talk about that but let's go back to two thousand twelve and and how you've made an expert Politics Festival how you made an impact in two thousand twelve in and what you said was the most boring race of all time how do you how do you make a name for yourself. As a fledgling organization in two thousand twelve I think we understood that twitter was the front page of politics the for that for that conversation all the all the people who had been hitting refresh on my blog but all the like the journalists and the candidates themselves and the political operatives and the and the community of political junkies who are obsessed with it. We're living on twitter. They weren't going to websites and I had seen that in my traffic on my blog where I'd gotten politico go to let me insert a little try. You know one of those who was extreme tracker so that I could see my traffic. Go and I think what I we hired a bunch of really scrappy the four or five really really scrappy reporters who were sort of too young to get hired anywhere real but we're incredibly talented and told them twitter's the front page of your website decide not buzzfeed dot com if somebody if this story has already appeared on someone else's written it. You shouldn't read it. 'cause it's already. They're all I want exclusives and we just you know we just put a ton of pressure on herself breaking news several times a day and you're not talking about literally publishing the story on twitter. You're saying work at a twitter pace. No no no what I mean is that if if you have have reported that vox media has acquired New York magazine. I'm not going to report that because my audience already saw it on twitter. I'm just going to skip that. Hyper informative tried to jump jump to the next one assume that you're writing that highest common denominator and was there a story where you you think he broke through the the the boys in the bus or whatever they wanNA that that was part of this in this business is that you break a story larger outlet steals it from you. You wind very very loud on twitter. Everybody sides is with you and that's like the ritual how you breakthrough. We broke the news that God this seems so important at the time that John McCain was going to endorse Mitt Romney on like my third or fourth day there air and yeah and that was and then CNN reported at fifteen minutes later and didn't cite folks. They hadn't seen us because they weren't. You know they were living in their own sort sort of alternate television news universe and then we're very in that every and then twitter twitter that how can you rub buzzfeed of credit and then the people were very gracious but it was a good moment where you doing like a buzzfeed. Take on the news or you're doing straight ahead political junkie McCain McCain Romney new mkx Recap Romney so we've always done some of that to write but I think what we try not to do anything to try and do the average of those things where I think we were trying to do in some sense what social media was asking for which in that moment was incremental pieces pieces of information by skip headed to now and the New York Times has a very long story about all the theme music and play list that the that the again. It's us like really really earnest about it. Yes that's their version of you guys from a lot of versions of us through the US view. Let's skip ahead to two now now. So now you guys recovered. US still a million people in the Democratic race more than one in the Republican race. How are you thinking about covering that race today. A what how do you have to adapt your coverage to a new media universe. I think it's actually it's partly a new media universe. It's also partly a new political universe like I think our I think it's changed a lot like I came up. Doing you know hacky political reporting which continue to enjoy but I don't think that's what our audience wants like. I think you know we've both third. We surveyed our audience but also sort of hear feedback all the time and I think that I was never comfortable with the sort of more extreme notions notions of like politics as a game. It's a horse race. You should bet on it. It's all fun and Games. There's no nothing real involved but that always flowed through a kind of political journalism and uh and I think that that really ended in two thousand sixteen. I think that is ended because I don't see evidence of it ending. When I read this stuff I don't when I read the stuff but when I see people's reaction action to the stuff I do. I think people were repelled. You think I'm just younger younger. People who are maybe newer consuming political journalism awesome. I think are really repelled by certain kind of I don't want sort of like name people but they're obviously people associated with a certain kind of school of everyone goes values free. Horsera- everyone knows what they do. They do who's leading in the polls. There's a new version this year who is raising this much money in their money. Come from individual donors or large donors. I don't WanNa know who's GonNa win. Obviously they want to know who's going to win. I think they don't want you to seem like you're approaching it as a game and that means certain kinds of stories written with no context aren't interesting interesting anymore. I mean the fundraising stuff for instance. There's so much less coverage of it than there was for eight years ago. Nobody care readers don't care. I just think it's more it's tonal and it story selection action but I think like we really trying to focus on. You know what what are these people do when they actually had power you're covering mayor. Pete like the story of ours. Most about him was a story about his Housing policy who these folks are they want sort of to understand what makes them tick. I mean sources say so and so has left so and so's campaign is now working for someone says campaign and that's relevant to like two hundred people beat reporters you sent him to do a story. A I mean this podcast will be relevant two hundred people stories and get into depth in a way that's very relevant to like their beat but and so I don't want it and I'm not saying it's not addict out that we would never do a story like that that but I think we try really hard to put in context about why this stuff matters so every four years or or more often there is a discussion about is the media going to cover the hort. Should the media covering the horse as we shouldn't do it. Jay Rosen is NYU journalism presser stopped mark is finally right take on twitter and he says the we shouldn't do it and Jay Rosen talks about it both persuasive and then totally non persuasive because he's describing a world that should be and then we go back to the real world where everyone talks about fundraising and and WHO's the head he gets changed a lot so so you're saying that your audience rejected both in terms of quantity and quality they're telling you they're not reading those stories. They're different kinds of total so you found something that everyone what else is missing. I don't think it's I think they're shades right. I think so you know I think if you look at any publication you'll see a range of stuff that is some skewed more towards the very traditional transactional political reporting and and some that feels like something new but no I think the moment has really changed. I think you see it in the way. The White House covered obviously where news organizations organizations or I mean it seems like fifty percent of all news is about how the New York Times covers donald trump like obviously that is a big and the New York Times writes about how the rest of the media covers trump yes altogether have you guys had a reckoning about how to cover trump. We'd spent the first we acting really early it. During the campaign interesting in the summer of two thousand fifteen it was because we sent me this great reporter of ours. McKay coppins out to cover to cover the trump campaign and do kind of a profile piece and it snowed in new HA. It's snowed in New York and the plane from New Hampshire that he had somebody gotten to ride on the on the trump plane and and it got diverted tomorrow Lago and he spent the day at Mar-a-lago and got you know and just wrote a piece that is totally recognizable. Today there was about trump as a sort sort of liar and a fraud and sort of this sort of self absorbed bizarre self absorbed characters surrounded by yes asman it really very unflattering portrait and we this and I think trump early reacted with this picture of him behind the the Oval Office with gilded the desk and it was the headline on was thirty six hours on the campaign trail Donald Trump and you know it was treated him like the cartoon that turns out to in fact to be yeah. I think so that was our point interview on him from the start. You kind of have a New York like this didn't seem the one thing that we thought he wasn't gonNA run. I mean that we were totally wrong about that and there's sort of a running joke on twitter. The probably has a little truth to it it that McKay trolled trump into running and this is all his fault but trump in a way that again is become familiar totally lost his mind about the story and among other things put out an article got it depicts six or somewhere that Breitbart Breitbart that McKay had been like ogling and hitting on the staff mar-a-lago. McKay is a devout more part of the story. Even though he's a devout Mormon he was still women who but who lives his faith and he'd just was not applause of all of of all the ways to go at him and there were other ways like that was crazy it was it was just so obviously out just a blatant lie. It was like Oh this is how this is how we deal with this guy and then we started showing servants and we were banned from them which is fine accesses a curse. That's I really believe that but it was really Kinda just lucked into like an early experience of what this was going to be like but there was the initial he's a joke cartoon all right he's running for real and now he's leading but this can't be real and he's going to be this year's version men. Carson or whomever and or Herman Cain Herman Cain who is the woman from Minnesota thank you she had a great week very ashamed of my my fellow citizens she had amazing week in two thousand twelve so much fun and then vet that wasn't true and and then by the time you you know we cut to the fall of two thousand sixteen. You already have a sort of what what did we miss and also how do we cover a person who says things that are demonstrably untrue and we don't can't even bring ourselves to call it a lie yeah rolling discussion. That's continuing up through now the the newest one. I read The New York Times about the media the MSNBC turned turned away from a live press conference yeah do we should we do that should we should we carry the news live but then fact check it in real time. I am however you guys changing your approach. Well I would say he's like really you know Genius Television EXEC who have the TV system. I'm in a way that was really effective like he provided free programming to these networks love to get things for free. I mean like there were things I think. TV has a harder challenge challenge. What do you do with this thing that your audience really does want to watch is being provided to gladys. I mean that's the and I don't think that the kind of web and print media had quite the same set of challenges and I think they didn't screw up badly. I would say they're still very many especially on the web but I do think there's this critique of that this long outstanding critique of American journalism that Jay Rosen sort of embodies. which is you know which was when? I was covering John McCain or Mitt Romney or it was that's. Why aren't you saying he's a liar. Why aren't you saying he's a fascist and to me actually the refusal by most journalists to say that you know when Romney says that his health healthcare plan was in Massachusetts not identical to the obamacare. We should be saying he's a liar right. I think it's like no no now. We see what that's a policy. Policy Dispute and all politicians lie in various ways and it's but it's but these are our policy arguments that it's appropriate arguments. There's if you want and you should reserve the word life when you really know that the person it's a very high bar that the person you know they know it's false extremely high bar. It should be an extremely high bar yeah. I don't think that the thing that it so much that journalism has changed as that. We are covering something really different. If knowledge how different it is and what is your audience telling telling you about how they want. Trump covered you guys are are demonstrably a left leaning left. I mean just like anybody else. In New York media concerned about so. I don't don't think of us as being to the political left of of the New York Times. I think we're generational coming from a somewhat different place. I think that it's tricky. I think that a lot of I'd rather talk about the times than us. I think the Times is the challenge but that many others have to where your audience will read any bad thing about New York about Donald Trump and they have to resist the temptation just to feed it to them and then when they write something that contradicts progressive narrative they get people beating them up and canceling subscriptions and that's a real problem so I don't know if you said this publicly or privately inside buzzfeed because someone who worked works. There told me that you said that Buzzfeed News. Would it'd be successful if the president knew you were at some point. Oh yeah maybe that's always true of cover anyone you cover if you're not. I think people underestimate how much the subjects of news coverage and if you've ever been a subject of news coverage do not underestimate this care about what you rate like a lot and if you're not if the person you are covering doesn't know who you are. You're like you got a problem. So I wrote a story another writer early in the trump administration sort of based around the idea that trump was gonna come after Buzzfeed News and you explain to me this. This is a terrible story based on stupid premise you're at least half right but he did. He did call you out at the beginning. He said you guys are garbage right. This is you you know well. Let's say we like we did some reporting. He didn't like them. We thought we were into so he calls you out at the beginning of the administration from what I can tell L. His Media Diet is almost entirely TV news that he watches during -secutive time and then print newspapers that come out of New York that he used to read in the seventy s in ninety s and maybe someday someone prints out a federal Breitbart or politico thing for him and hands. It doesn't seem like he would be consuming Vino. We know you said to him. Hey find me buzzfeed or or Breitbart and gave him a computer. I'm not sure he would know how to do that and that's I think. Actually I think that's a real challenge. A business challenging away for the new media I think when you think about like new media I mean the old St and new media valuations we're very very high and crashed and they're you know and there's a lot of like crash lower than they were and I think there's a lot of reasons related to the advertising industry around on that but I also think that trump kind of like looked backward and kind of really centralized attention and at least the idea of what media media was around the media. The nineteen eighties like it's crazy. People are paying attention to broadcast television. That hasn't happened in years. It's weird because he's partly TV and then he's hundred percent twitter yeah total but it's twitter primarily as a method of programming television. That's really fundamentally what he's using twitter for us to program television the vision and to and to dictate what you see on television what he sees on television. I do think that you know it's this roadrunner like he's like those media are just way he's he's. I think extended ended the life of a certain kind of cable news broadcasts when he says you guys need me me when I go away. You're GonNa Miss Me. She's right yeah and I think that obviously Asli still digital social. Mobile Communications are GONNA win like that's not really bad but he definitely has postponed that reckoning in a way that has I think been tougher for the folks that are business actually. Do you think about how buzzfeed going to operate in the post trump era. No we're just trying to survive whereas the day moved here because you're on the road I got recode is brought to you by express. VPN wondering why you might WanNa use express vp and I have two scenarios for you one. 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VPN DOT com slash cash Peter for extra three months for free. This episode is brought to you by Jay Street an organization redefining what it means to be pro Israel Jay Street represents the mainstream voice of American Jews this fall join with Jay Street to fight back against the anti-democratic forces threatening both the US and Israel registration is now open Virginia Streets National Conference October Twenty Sixth Through Twenty Nineth in Washington. DC Go to Jay Street DOT ORG SLASH VOX to learn more and register this year Jay Street has teamed teamed up with crooked media producers of the HIP podcast pod save the world and pods of America to bring you thought provoking interviews with leading advocates policymakers and twenty twenty candidates. Let's host Tommy Vitor and Ben Rhodes will join the Jay Street team to discuss the future of American leadership in the Middle East registered today for the J Street National Conference October Twenty Sixth Through Twenty Nineth in Washington. DC Go to Jay Street dot org slash vox and use code box for twenty percent off your conference registration again. That's Jay Street dot org slash Vox Fox and use Code v O x twenty percent off when you registered to attend Jay Street the political home for Pro Israel Pro Peace Americans so let's talk about surviving business. We've looked at this a few times. You guys got very big. At one point. buzzfeed started having cuts the newsroom was left alone for a while and then you guys had cuts last falls and this this January timelines off so I imagine that's the first time you've ever had to be part of a layoff process yeah. That was the worst thing I have ever done. In my career in forever. Joan pretty had basically said something effective. Yeah we know this is very expensive and it doesn't make any business but we like it and then he would have various justifications. For how did you guys get to the point said no actually we're going to cut the newsroom as well. I don't think that was a direct quote and I think that it actually isn't that. It doesn't make business sense. I think that the challenges that it's right that there's in the sort of crude business terms. You're doing it for the brand not for sort of that. It's not the highest. Roi Bid of a business but the news has been at the core of like every media business in the last hundred years so that's that's the more direct you know. I mean I. I don't think it's that complicated. We're spending more money than we had revenues. We have revenues. I even reported around three hundred million dollars and it was not unreasonable to say. How are you losing money at that. The number buzzfeed has a whole that's one hundred and I think but I think and I think there was a sense and we'd been through these years of extremely rapid growth. I think this is very very I mean. I think you see this in many many many startups. You assume that your trajectory is continuing best by the way you're often encouraged to buy your backers. We see this as you said you can go to take a year or two long and your whole grow grow your being rewarded for growth. Don't worry about your betting on growth yeah. Obviously it's difficult to operate great with less people than you did before. But how did you think through our we're going to operate with fewer resources Hauer. How do you pick what to focus on where your strengths are. I think it forced us to think about like what are we really good at where we where we winning where we playing to win and where has the you know the constantly changing aging medium we live in what's working and so that's you know so. I think we have areas politics tack kind of Information Misinformation Culture and in particular killer kind of our cultural coverage as sort of the Atlantic every month. We'll have some great cover story about how terrible young people are. We sort of try to publish the response. The sort of the the other side of that coin on on the Internet writes a lot of really good stories most Derek Thompson about how millennials are screwed and it's the old baseball on I mean I love like you know. I love Caitlin Flanagan. I love the stuff but had terrible. The current generation is too. I just think we're you and I perhaps in this sort of middle generation where you're officially genetics. Are you held. I'm forty two. I'm older okay never mind. I think it myself you know somebody told me recently somebody at one of the big famous American magazines that they felt that the kind of core dynamic in legacy media right now is that the old people are scared of the young people and I sort of think of our generation roughly as being able to sort of identify with both sides of that I think of my generation is the ones the last ones that grow up without the Internet. You're just scared. The young people know under fine. They're Nice. I work with a lot of them but I do remember what it was like to go to college and not have email yeah and the the the plus side bite is none of my high school college years or even early twenty years or documented which I'm very thankful for all the time one point prior tired of cuts time right there was a story about you meeting with Peter Latman who's lowering jobs guy media media guy and talking about some deal sort of so buzzfeed news to her or something like that. There's some truth to it that united that is the entire category we had a drink had that conversation possibly one or both of us was a little indiscreet and telling others about that converse genuinely that conversation immediately leaked the FDA and immediately. I got a call from Kenny Lear saying that's the stupidest idea ever heard of Chairman Yeah I. I think you know actually in a way. It was not intended as this but it did. I think get Jones thank like hey do. We like this idea. Do we think news an important in part of this media company of this bundle or actually. Is this a loss-making hobby that we should get rid of and I think like very emphatically came down on the side of the former. That was my immediate experience because it struck me that all right well that thing happened in. Ben wouldn't go off just cooking up ideas about how to sell his cells operation without some sort of like yeah. That's a good thing to think about. I mean I wouldn't overstate the extent to which I would not go out and get myself into trouble with my bosses. Definitely go have a drink after after this I think I did you guys talk about other ways to save buzzfeed news or find another investor or find a backer or or find some other way too I mean. I don't think it we don't feel I don't feel like it needs saving honestly like the thing that we have. I mean you know we've both news you it. We're not a subsidiary right were operating unit of a company and so you can slice that a Lotta ways what our revenues are what our costs are but those lines of converged every year for the last several and I think honestly that most of our opportunities are like we have a lot of openings in the revenue side of talk about some of those doing. I see you periodically yeah. See tweeting about this. I confess. I don't watch it. talking about your your new show in the morning. It's a streaming news. Show can do a lot of news programming on twitter on facebook and snap snap. That's been a good business for us and that's it's. It's very millennial in Gen Z. Ish but it's also you know you're bringing on actual. US Senators and other people with no real conversations it turns out to be an IT's as a reporter one of the things that as a web reporter you'll often get an email laura call. That's like hey such and such important celebrity or fame or politician is in town. Do you want to meet them and you're Kinda like I don't know kind of waste their time to meet me. I'M NOT GONNA do anything with it and now we have this. We just point a camera at him and caused them to make news. It's great and do you talk differently than you would. If you were at the today show or though yeah I think we think of it as like we we don't WanNa ask any question that they would be asked on Cable News. We want them to be coming into our generational tonal place and having kind of different kind of conversation but but you don't want to end up asking the equivalent of the boxer briefs question totally did you do we also WanNa ask them and get them to make news in the news of the day but also yes. We had Pete Judge Sh. We got him going on. Whether President James Buchanan was gay on whether his Gaidar could go through time and space to that. Oh Yeah Yeah Yeah. No I mean you can't work for breastfeed. It'd be embarrassed about working for us. That's not an option and this year you're doing. You're doing text interviews text messages yeah. This has been really a fun thing so ah I think we all get what a text message would be but it's literally you texting them and they're supposedly responding in real time like I don't know for sure that they're the ones that their hands on who do you who is least likely to actually retyping their tax to you. I'm pretty sure they all the ones I've done with so far Kamla and and and Lancaster and stuff I'm I'm reasonably they send a Selfie. It'd be a these. I mean all these people always passions. Do is text each other all day like it's you know if you read the coverage of the current impeachment stuff. It's all getting fomented in texting accident groups. I do think chatting with some Bernie's folks and they were a little skeptical that he would do a lot of texting with me in duty request request in but that's not this he's not getting the yellow your phone and it can just record it will send the text out really well. I'll pass that on yeah. If you're even take credit for it. It's fine and do you think you learn something from texting a politician that you wouldn't get by talking to them. You know I think it's not a good format for exploring policy in depth but it is. It's actually had human beings communicate. Now I think he's actually you get a sense of who they are. Maybe I'd be more than you do like this like this is not how human beings communicate sitting on stage in front of lights and cameras and that's usually when you see them and I think actually do kind of get a sense of what Emoji they're using and how how they frame the self in all like the normal things that people do when they actually communicate in this day and age emojis you can also see how you can also toss them a hard question and then it just kind of sits there and they can't dodge it which is fun dot dot dot dot stop responses two hours later but the the other thing. I really liked about it and we're doing it. Our books newsletter we've been doing text interviews with authors is that it's not this is not a moment of a lot of trust in media and I think people are always suspicious of how you've edited an interview what the real context was. I think podcasts is to like the context is all there yeah. Sometimes I think we leave every BURP and Fart and yeah in the air and sometimes someone wants to clean it up and say you know you sound kind of rude there and I'll leave it all in then I think there is appoint any for sure and then they're also very nice mobile at the lake. Yeah my interview with Andrea de Interview Jan constitutes like my entire relationship chip with Andrea and I've never had any contact with other than like. Hey your staff is ignoring me. Could we do a review sure has Tuesday. You know like we've kind of put it all in there. You think Joe Biden is going to text you. I hope so they seem I think he's happy to test people and does it all the time and I've been chatting with this. Guy's better not ask you a horse race question yet. There is going to be audience cue and I see you can ask all. You're very kind of moral answers money for a second you guys higher revenue person for just just for buzzfeed news or you're hiring a new thing. Let's see yeah yeah. We're definitely investing more in the business of news then. I think this is not a novel situation for folks in media companies. I know people. NBC This experience which is that is that news can be a pretty good business but it's not as good business as tasty our food channel for instance. Ah for it's not as easy and advertising so if you have a big advertising sales team they're not necessarily going to instinctively look at news and so we've in fact in my want to avoid it because they don't want to be around in apocalypse doc ellipse or a bit so I think so usually wind up having people whose dedicated job is to sell the new stuff and so we're finally ramping that up in hiring hiring it dedicated seller for the first time and so we we talked about TV video. That's an obvious way to make money there. I wrote a story once about the fact that Ben Smith had his own podcast this funny because it was like three or four years ago and I'm grudgingly wrote it and I said Ben Smith has a podcast because everyone has pop and I was right but it's embarrassing now because a hundred times more people have pod and right now and then you start. I have no personal attention since I was the problem too. I thought my God has wasn't that good and it's a good example to kill your own thing and you but you but we also then confidence which which is the you said hey that's a small audience and we can do much more on video and then you subsequently got rid of the rest of your podcast. I I don't see those things is like it's not like you do video in any we were more. We've definitely been much more successful in video than an audio but that's like our failure to succeed in audio. That's not because one medium is superior barrier because there is now a podcast. I don't know if you've heard about that. Yes everyone does everyone and everyone. Here's the puck but you did not have a daily podcast. We are going to have have a three times. Why just tweet the I was misinformed and I thought this would be up. I was told that this would be up tomorrow this Dale and not by somebody who was a story about this story about how my employer had bought New York media then yeah we do turn that around. Oh God that same day I didn't know that our ARQAM's team had listened to that and we're all talking about it immediately after yeah no if I interview my boss and then my other new boss that goes right up right away yep that's this. I don't know if you've interviewed her boss onstage in record but it's not great. It's awkward am because then you have to say that the real answer and then it gets a little uncomfortable little more uncomfortable than this yeah when Andrew Breitbart died Jonah had known him pretty well and I wound up writing an interview with him that I was interviewed about yeah. This is still up on the Internet. Okay good so you feel like this is a sustainable news operation original. Yes you want to add to that. I mean I think like the thing that like people in my position like I did not come up thinking I wanted to be in the media business right like I'm a reporter but I do think that anybody in my position you sort of have to decide that that's incredibly important and your invest in it. I think newsrooms like our newsroom. Certainly is like it's he's just more interested in and willing to get excited about you know projects. They're going to make the business sustainable and want to know about that yeah I think so. I think I mean I don't. I don't think there's like a silver bullet or that. It's magic I think we're just sort of investing in the business more and and have seen our revenue satellite. Go Up and loss down. You know that's that's what you're trying to do in the news and we've also been really lucky to have this long-term commitment to real original journalism from from from our management couple of big trends in media. Find a rich person to sustain you. That's the Atlantic did with marine. Paul jobs guys talked and then the new idea. It's not a new idea via. The new new idea is to ask readers to pay for you in some form so everyone is creating a subscription product or putting up a pay while you guys are still free. I think you were asking readers to donate money. We in a very lightweight experimented with a membership program last year and like you know we're we're kind of thrilled that anyone did actually in you know number of people know. It's still open and we've seen what it was like. It's not enough off of a heartbeat that we're going to do with it. We will invest more in it and make it a real thing but I think we're never going to be really part of our. DNA to be open to the Internet and so we're not GONNA in any serious way put up a paywall that blocks any substantial part of our content for most of our audience. I think you could imagine here and there but you having special stuff. We send special emails subscribers in some sense. That's a paywall two members I I. I think that one of the things like we've all learned in the last years it's sort of yes of course we should be looking for direct revenue from our audience and also advertising and also anything else we also yeah production and also all the other things and then there's the currency revenue comes from apparently. Google and facebook and snap where they're paying. It's gone on for a few years various forms well. They'll pay some amount of money to some news organizations nations to make some kind of content for them and the rationale for it changes over time so I think this is like one of the big stories and sort of not yet quite noticed stories in our business right now which is that free right over the last several years particularly Google and facebook and in other ways smaller companies like snap and medium or micro. There are a lot other players in that space but have tried to sort of Google's face particularly have signal that they care about news by Simpson's hiring publishers assures to do interesting experimental projects. They're not core to what the publisher is doing and not quarter what Google is doing but kind of or facebook rolls out. It's a live video feature sure and pays publishers to play around with it and then publishers get mad when it doesn't it turned out that wasn't didn't work and facebook paying them. I honestly never really unders like that seems. I'm fine to me like if you were in fact working that you would have noticed. These videos aren't working. Nobody's really watching you. Guys did one really popular but yes Alan and that was it yeah we did we did it was very classic. Thing like suspense turns out to be a very watermelon exploding media value and he just kept putting rubber bands around the watermelon. So what do you think how do you think we should be thinking about the platform so I think that is I think actually people don't have appreciated how different and the thing that facebook is now. Reportedly doing is with US Tab Yeah Launched News Tab and essentially as a syndication model like a like the way that like like a cable affiliate fee model. They are paying news organizations to license the original reporting that the news organizations are already doing. It's it's it's not go. Do this fun project for spend most of the money that you take in doing this project. It's we're going to license the stuff. You're already doing and they had done version of that was was to for instance article. Things let us hosted and that was considered this crazy breakthrough and how do I handle that produce meaningful revenue incremental revenue. That would have been great right. I mean 'cause that. Ultimately is what these conditions need. I think facebook and there are a couple other folks. I'm not sure it's all public yet who maybe an order of magnitude smaller but meaningful places that are starting just to snap snap indicate news content snap reportedly talking about it. I can confirm that but we can confirm that they're doing it and I haven't. I don't Joe I read Mr. I read about it in the information. I think that like that's I I think it's really probably sustainable for Google in the medium-term continue to just to make all this money from news content and give us kind of these complicated speeches about how actually there helping us while all they derive value from us and don't pay us you Rupert Murdoch who's been railing about this for a deck. I think I think we're America's totally right about this and that and was way ahead and it's funny because Joanna and Jonah Peretti Rupert Murdoch came at this from obviously in many ways totally different points of view rupert just being like like in this very very traditional Ole Television and newspaper you pay for this stuff kind of likes slamming his fist on the table way and and Joanna years ago was saying ultimately we are going to be two you competing platforms what cable media media companies have been two competing cable networks and cable operators and I think you are starting yeah. I mean any of us have a lot of revenue in various ways from the platforms. I do think Google and to a lesser degree. Microsoft and apple are GONNA. I don't think there's a long-term path like culturally politically for them particularly now. That facebook has just said okay what we're GonNa do is just follow that model for them to say Oh. It's not feasible. It's not morally right. It's like facebook seems to figure out how to do it. So I think Google's position of money they're they're smaller than two minimus to them. Yeah Yeah for the BUZZFEED's of the world's a couple of million bucks here there which is real money you can hire reporters meaningful amount of money news organization and and but for years and years and years. Google didn't do this and facebook didn't do this and we read a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg when this was bandied about a year ago and he just gave us this blank fish look where we cut to now and they're doing it and I think Google right now is if you talk to the guy who runs news that Google Richard Gingrich. We'll give you a long long thoughtful explanation explanation of how this is unprincipled how this is against their values and their principles and they'll never do it just the same way they were explaining. How taking Alex Jones off the platform. Was You know they would love to but it was against. It's their principles and they can never do it and that's just true until the day it's not so the thought among the media guys was always we'll have to because we're so important to them and they're we're not important to them right. We're just two piece of data in the Corpus Yeah. I think that's what they have are starting drill. I think I think the media guys were right. It was just took a while. They writers just politically now. This is just a way to get media organizations which are influential and by the way cover you to be less angry at you. I love how people in the tech world say politically like. It's an afterthought it has been in Silicon Valley. It has up until two thousand sixteen yeah not anymore. I mean I think I think another way view. It is that that there might turn out if they if they if they make decisions that are like hey. We're going to try to destroy this very important American industry. The news industry like that might have have consequences for them. I don't think that's crazy. I think that's starting to be true but you could say that for any industry. They have disrupted and disrupt right well they they do but I think you're starting. I just think there's obviously there's been a huge change in the climate in which they're operating and you do believe in your tech lash believer. You don't think that's something that we've cooked up in New York in in Washington. I mean I guess I'm not. I'm not a tech lash believer in the sense that I don't. It's not driven by Paul. I think people misunderstand the notion that there's a political article backlash like now everyone on the street hates Amazon Amazon most people in Washington who actually make regulatory Tori Decisions Democrats see these companies as sort of unscrupulous capitalists who by the way elected Donald Trump Republicans you see them as a liberal conspiracy to screw them and so I've never seen a situation in which you have an industry this powerful and important portent with no friends. Thanks credibly apple exception to this actually but the others are just in this like crucible. DC It's really by the way the Republican answer to what the the problem with tech is and the Democratic answered what the problem with tech with They're not even remotely speaking the same language. That's why I think actually nothing. I don't think I think that's totally wrong like I think if you talk to people who've met with I if you talk to like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders camp people who have recently gone in and met with the Justice Department lawyers who are deciding whether they want to try to break these companies are just imposed a new regulatory regime. They're totally on the same page but if you go talk or Josh Holidays talking about the fact that facebook is supposedly suppressing free speech and it's to made up it's a when they go and they either attempt to pass them some major regulation or to break up the companies the Elizabeth Warren. We'll go out and say the the reason we need to do. This is because markets need to operate differently and Josh highly will go out and say the reason we need to do. This is because this is a liberal conspiracy to suppress speed you think they will end up in the same place place in the actual regulation and real meaningful effect. I think there is a real possibility that these companies get broken up the Google in particular. I think that's not a joke so this is very exciting. I want to keep talking about matter but I also want to offer. You guys a chance to ask questions. We've got about ten minutes as any anyone. WanNa raise a hand. There's a microphone or too involved to either. I been thanks. Thanks for being here the earth thanks for the interview. Bring Your podcast still dossier yes. Can you take us back into the news room or when the Editors Joan y'all over talking and trying to decide what to do and you sort of came out differently than most of the mainstream media. What was the calculus. What was the decision process. And what were those conversations sure. Let's see this is the sort of winter of twenty sixteen seventeen and we like a number of news organizations in late. Two Thousand Sixteen had gotten a hold of this. I guess like thirty six page set of reports of that were ranged from the whose contents ranged from in a really shocking allegations that you've all heard two things that are now obviously true like there was a coordinated Russian intelligence operation to influence the election on behalf donald trump like that which was by the way when this was first when these things were put together in mid two thousand sixteen that was quite a thing to say by the time we use and by the time reported it in early two thousand seventeen that was obvious and I think a lot of news organisations were looking at these and like us a lot of them were sending reporters to Moscow into Prague. UGH and various other places and trying to figure out what was really going you know whether the underlying claims were true and then I think there was also a sense of like man everybody in Washington is talking about and has seen these things like all the intelligence officials the members of Congress the journalists and it's affecting what they do like John. McCain is it sure is acting weird toward donald trump like what's going on here. It wasn't just like A. It wasn't like somebody sends you. An email with a bunch of weird claims the document itself had a kind of Washington currency that was influencing influencing the course of public events. Everyone is talking about this thing but not in public and powerful people are making decisions based on it right so we started talking about. What's the threshold at which you say hey we do not know whether these allegations are true but this document itself is news and is important and then. CNN reported that the document had been briefed to two presidents of the United States they'd taken Obama and trump aside and said you know we're going to tell you about this document document because it's so important whatever the standard is from my perspective for is this thing important enough to report on that cleared that bar. CNN's talking talking about her no no he's been briefed by the head of the FBI and the CIA the two to two successive presence and that that's an extensive bar for the for public public interest interest for what is a public document and it seemed like you more or less hit publish as soon as the CNN reporter few hours later so you basically threw it up there. There was a story that was done many weeks of reporting it wasn't it wasn't like we didn't know we got. It didn't know what it wasn't that. I thought that was a very clear decision. Yeah I've asked you this question before the discussion internally with with Joanna with lawyers. Did you have that prior to publishing it. Yes absolutely absolutely definitely did predict with lawyers with John but also yes you know at the time community you guys. I think rightly I think you're right to publish. It and lots of people came here. Defense others criticized it I never heard. was anyone complaining internally at buzzfeed since since a half wasn't actually not the best place and then wish there'd been more discussion and it seemed rushed. Did you get feedback from from people who work for you is not a thing I'd ever thought about that hard hard before but when you're working in a newsroom and you make these very fast very kind of high conflict decisions with huge consequences and you have colleagues suddenly who have to go out and explain it to their salespeople to their clients if they're you know your editor in Berlin wakes up in the morning with his phone is going up because everybody in German media wants to know what the hell happened and he has an email from you saying hey we did this and here's why but there's no feasible way to include all these people in these decisions and I think if you look at like some of the great media misses the last few years it's where like hey we had this huge story about these access. Hollywood tapes and so we had like nineteen meetings until the Washington Post got it and it's and I think it's a tough organizational thing but my experience was incredible support and kind of Solidarity Eh from people on our business side from people all all over the company although although it obviously put people in a difficult position and you ended up with a lawsuit or more than one lawsuit right base one one that was I think in in in federal interest now and you're done. You've never totally done. I think I think it may be on appeal but this Republican Republican judge in Florida road in a really important ruling saying sort of I think in some ways expanding the sense of like what is like a public document. What's the public interest. I found that this clearly was questions prevent. We'll make your so you guys have been doing a lot of great reporting from even before two thousand sixteen about at the what the infant the Internet and the information ecosystem. It's time to how we perceive. Things are true and obviously the idea of deep fakes. That'd be ah the people that are talking about coming. Onstream is a things just going to get worse. Do you think in terms of how people can believe things and how easy it is for politicians to lie or is there hope on there is is is there hope. I Dunno Nikki the you know I think that we journalists and media consumers are so much more sophisticated indicator then they were like. I think people are starting to like people broadly have just realize like oh I can't you know there is this toxic polluted ecosystem and so I I actually think you haven't seen a the sort of idea that these deep fix that my colleague Charlie Wars L. scared everybody about you. Know Not that long ago we're GONNA sort of De Rail and overtake the election that could happen. There's a new theory that says everyone now is so concerned about deep fakes. They won't believe Real News that I saw the thing that is that is in some ways the way the lot of this is going to be used is that Donald Trump says this transcript was fake but I don't know you haven't seen that happen yet. I'm sure it will in some places. I'm sure there are definitely like in things that may not happen at the highest political level where there are still kind of elite elite gatekeepers. I think the way you see like deface used for like really kind of crude and grow sexual harassment on the Internet is horrible herbal and damaging. It doesn't necessarily a political issue but but there are other kind of toxic uses that maybe on a smaller scale in a more local scale. Do you think you ever get back to whatever media environment we had in the nineteen fifties or Aaron sorkin believed the nineteen fifties where we all turn to CBS and NBC and whatever they say we reflexive. We automatically believe it's received wisdom yeah. It's going to be buzzfeed vaccinate vice all right. I'll take it to the three networks works. How do you pronounce Pulitzer Pulitzer Pulitzer and I don't know but you want one Pulitzer. Yeah turns that we do because I used to be. It used to be kind of a SNOB. It's now about awards I think in my heart. I still every spring complain about not getting one. I would never complain. We've been finalised a couple of times. When when when do you think you'll be recognized for your work you get the lifetime achievement award at some point. You know we're just honored to be considered. You very politic. Take Ben Smith. Thank you for coming. Thank you thanks to you guys for hosting us. Thanks the text attributes. Thanks again to bend for coming down at Texas. Talk with me. Thanks to the Texas Tribune for hosting us that as a very cool event. If you can get down there you should check it out. Thanks to you guys for listening. Thanks to our producers as an editor's Zach Jilani Joel thanks to our sponsors who bring this show to you for free lots more recode media coming your way very soon. The time has come to demand better from business and the Financial Times is empowering readers to lead lead the way and to navigate the new agenda with an unparalleled global perspective on America's biggest stories. The Financial Times gives us the kind of rigorous objective reporting. That's essential for making positive necessary. Change the FT's new agenda is holding power to account and challenging corporations to do what's best for people both the planet and for the bottom line. It's time to rewrite the rules of business with the financial. Times your guide to the new agenda go to F T DOT COM. Tom Slash new agenda. That's F. T. dot com slash n e w A._G. N._D._A.

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