Journalism itself seems to be falling on hard times. The traditional news mediums (newspapers, TV news, magazines, etc.) are having trouble making as much money as they used to, seeing as we can get our news for free on the Internet, and without the self-righteous TV personalities. Unfortunately, the vast majority of news outlets, whether online or offline, are highly dependent on advertising for revenue, and in the digital age, this means that nearly all news sites are bombarded by ads, and thanks to a phenomenon called native advertising, you can find articles that are often blatantly written for the purpose of promoting for a company.
Buzzfeed is guilty of what is perhaps the most blatant example of pandering in the whole world wide web. On top of its predilection for sensationalism, grade-school writing and lowest-common-denominator language, Buzzfeed’s primary source of income is producing ads that pretend to be content, and they don’t even try to hide it. I found two “uni advice” articles from them. One of them with a blatant advertisement for HSBC student accounts, and the other was a blatant advertisement for Sky student broadband package. It turns out that Buzzfeed literally does this almost all the time. You can pretty much walk into the site and see an article like “10 Apps All Parents Wish They Had”, and it’ll be extremely obvious that it’s an ad for Google Play (the site doesn’t even hide the company logo).
Then again, this should be very obvious. Buzzfeed is essentially the online equivalent of The Sun newspaper. It uses almost the same kind of language that tabloid newspapers do, but it takes a step lower than that. The vast majority of Buzzfeed’s articles are simply lists that are made up of random images plucked from Reddit and Tumblr, and it has a vast media empire based on populating the internet with idiotic nostalgia articles designed to appeal to readers who grew up in the 1990’s (a decade plagued with so many embarrassments to mankind I won’t even speak of them). If it’s not 90’s nostalgia, then it’s anything else that doesn’t even constitute as news, such as lists about pop culture icons, and very often posts about celebrities (as if we don’t hear enough about them already).
As painfully dumb as Buzzfeed is, they’re not the only ones doing it. They’re just the most egregious and unscrupulous example. The Atlantic once ran a sponsored article about David Mascavige, an obvious advertisement for the Church of Scientology. The Atlantic later pulled the article, but it was saved by Gawker, and has since been roundly mocked by pretty much every news website out there. Gawker, meanwhile, is guilty of its own native advertising crimes. It once published an article entitled “How to Transform Into a Total Nerd Babe”. Aside from it already being a bafflingly sexist article in principal, it also turns out to be an ad for a TV show called “King of the Nerds” (a short-lived reality TV series whose purpose was to shamelessly promote outdated “nerd” stereotypes).
Of course, all of this represents a problem in online journalism. Just like print and TV journalism before it, online journalism is dependent on advertising to make money, and the current model of advertising, as demonstrated by the likes of Buzzfeed, appears to be continuing unabated. This means that as long as native advertising remains highly profitable, then news websites will continue to employ it, and that means that we will continue to see skeezy websites like Buzzfeed churning out articles that are essentially blatant ads, undermining the content they wish to cloak their advertising in to begin with.