Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti on addressing The Trump Dossier and how media needs to raise the bar

Media needs to raise the bar says Jonah Peretti

Buzzfeed founder Jonah Peretti has said that while he views Facebook and Google as being part of the problem when it comes to rise of fake news, he does also believe that as they increase revenue sharing methods with publishers, they are also going to be part of the solution.

Speaking at Viva Technology in Paris, Peretti spoke about the future of online news, claiming that the biggest difference between Buzzfeed and 'traditional' media organisations was that it saw the need to "serve our audience and understand what the audience cares about and then do deep quality reporting on those issues."

He said it had covered a lot of news about sexual assault on campuses due to Buzzfeed's young readership caring about the issue and it seemed to be an area that was not being reported in full by traditional outlets. LGBT issues was another area it had focused on, as well as 'The Trump Dossier' that was published earlier this year.

"The intelligence community were all talking about this document. Senior people in media had all seen this document and were referencing this document on CNN, but the public didn't know what was in this document. Our mission as a news organisation is to help our audience understand what is going on in the world. The fact that the most important thing that was going on was the document and that the public hadn't seen it felt wrong, so we published the dossier and explained that it was an unverified document that was circulating in the highest levels of government."

This led to talking about trust in content and the monetisation of content being separated from its creation, which has led to the increase in fake news circulation.

"It's a really big problem in media that a lot of the big advertising revenue is going to Google and Facebook but they don't make content and they don't vouch for the content that appears on their platforms that are more of a marketplace, but they are very effective at advertising. Not having a strong economic model for journalism on these social platforms has created some challenges and it has led to the possibility of fake news; cheap, low quality, unvetted content, opinions that are presented as journalism really thrive on social platforms because the economics of the platforms don't drive enough revenue for premium content."

He added that this problem has 'created challenges' for democracy, consumers, Facebook and Google too.

"They are very aware of these challenges and they are trying to find more ways of sharing revenue with publishers and more ways to promote quality content on their platforms. They are going to see progress and improvement and Buzzfeed has been able to thrive on these platforms, in part because we have been able to create a digital cost structure. We are organised with relativity high fixed costs and lower marginal costs, and the ability to create content for a global network. When you look at the amount of revenue that was going to media companies and advertising dollars and the amount that is going to digital, it creates a bigger challenge for the industry."

Of branded content he highlighted the rise of ad blockers and ad skipping and even losing people's attention during ad breaks when people reach for their phones.

"The industry needs to raise the bar and make advertising that is actually useful, entertaining or at the very least not preventing you from seeing the content and not disrupting you and not annoying you. Consumers are also willing to consume advertising that is integrated well and that doesn't deteriorate their experience."

Peretti would later go on to state his belief that digital news was a better platform as it was able to serve its audience in real time and that the shift to digital away from printed news was always inevitable as a result.

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Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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