One ever-diminishing hope for New Media was that it would set a higher standard for journalistic integrity and principles, no more closed off favor-trading elite trying to manage the news for its own benefit. Yeah, not so much.
According to Gawker, a piece that included a critique of Buzzfeed‘s notoriously sketchy business model at Business Insider written by Nicholas Carlson was changed, without notice, to reflect a more favorable view after Buzzfeed’s CEO contacted BI to complain. Fail.
Yesterday, Business Insider chief correspondent Nicholas Carlson stuck a subtle shiv into his competitors at Buzzfeed, attributing the site’s success in exploiting Facebook’s ever-evolving newsfeed algorithm to its practice of buying traffic in the form of Facebook ads—as opposed to, you know, attracting readers. Then he took it out. Without telling anyone.
Many of these clickbait sites like Buzzfeed rely on Facebook for traffic and while many have suffered due to recent tweaks by Facebook of its algorithm Buzzfeed has not. Why you ask?
Carlson had an interesting explanation in his first version.
It could be that Buzzfeed, unlike all those other sites, buys traffic from Facebook.
Buzzfeed’s business model is to create advertorials on Buzzfeed.com and then get traffic to these advertorials by buying Facebook ads.
If that’s the reason, then the message Facebook is sending isn’t so much that it wants “high quality” content for its News Feed. It’s that if you are a media company, and you depend on Facebook for your traffic, you better make sure Facebook is benefiting from your existence.
For those unaware, Buzzfeed’s business model relies heavily on buying traffic. It’s one of the many reasons their finances are opaque, they don’t want to admit that’s how they generate such massive traffic – they pay for it. It’s not a crime, it’s not even necessarily that deceptive. But if Facebook changed its algorithm in such a way as to remove Buzzfeed or heavily soften its prominence – Buzzfeed would die a fast death.
But so what? That’s the nature of having a site that requires large traffic volume to make it work. It’s a business, no customers no business. That’s not the issue.
The issue is how and why Carlson changed the story. First on the how – he made a massive change and, according to Gawker, didn’t tell anyone. And as to the why – it gets even worse.
In an email exchange, he also confirmed that he changed the post after receiving an email from Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti, and after discussing things with Business Insider chief Henry Blodget.
That’s how journalism works now? You write a (correct) critique and if the CEO of the company you’ve discussed contacts you to complain you change the piece and don’t tell anyone? Does Carlson do this all the time? Is this a common practice at Business Insider?
Not confidence inspiring.
Update: Henry Blodget of Business Insider has now said the edits to the story; added information, sharpened the story, and were not solely the result of a call from Buzzfeed’s CEO. He also said the original story was accurate and that content was only added to improve the story.