Bullshit, Bastards & Bylines: What To Learn From Tumblr, Buzzfeed, HuffPo And Upworthy…Yes, Really
Buzz me, Huff me, make me up Worthy
What to learn from Tumblr, Buzzfeed, HuffPo and Upworthy…yes, really
Which media organisations have mastered making the web jump to their own sick tunes? Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail. The rest of the media runs like pissed wolves behind these lean beasts. The Daily Mail turns its enemies into obsessive readers. Even the most dyed-in-the-wool of liberal mung bean-munching Guardian readers find themselves stumbling over to the “Sidebar of Shame” to read about a revolving cast of celebrities about whom the Mail writes bizarrely detailed dispatches.
In the world of MailOnline, women “flaunt their curves” and only ever wear clothes in order to convey complex messages about their personal lives. While the Mail in print obsesses over immigrants, political scandal and sexual indiscretions, MailOnline cares far more about the Kardashians and a galaxy of lesser d-listers. MailOnline manages to write stories in such a way that you visit the site for a single bit of heavily-written hate by Samantha Brick or Liz Jones – the Mail’s shock troops of shock tactics – and end up staying there for 40 minutes feasting on a buffet of bile and bitchiness.
Whatever you think about the Mail’s politics – and to my mind it reads like Himmler brought up on E! News bulletins – MailOnline is the world’s biggest newspaper site and makes huge profits. The Mail both online and in print is a phenomenal editorial product. That said: Darth Vader was a pretty effective manager, I still wouldn’t want to take a job in DeathStar public relations.
So what makes Buzzfeed and The Daily Mail so successful? They’d tell you it’s down to investment, to smart teams and to knowing what their readers want. That is all true. But it’s also down to theft. Both companies relentlessly thieve from the general treasury of the web, dipping into sites like Reddit to scoop up popular posts, memes and ideas and “repurpose” them with very little credit to the original creators. When either site “credits” another site it is frequently Facebook, Tumblr or Reddit rather than taking the time to seek out who originally made the image, text, animated Gif or video. Oh and the credits they do give? They’re tiny grey text hidden beneath photos where most readers miss them.
Buzzfeed pays for rights to photos from the Reuters, AP and Getty libraries but must of its images don’t come from those sources. Instead, as I’ve already explained, its journalists and content farmers gobble up imagery posted on sites such as Reddit, Tumblr, Facebook and 4Chan. Buzzfeed, specifically its co-founder Jonah Peretti, defends its trawling of those sites and use of copyrighted images by arguing that it is protected under the US legal concept of “fair use”. But that’s a pretty weak defence.
Fair use is a difficult legal concept to apply. Wikipedia says:
“To justify the use [of copyrighted material] as fair, one must demonstrate how it either advances knowledge or the progress of the arts through the addition of something knew. A key consideration is the extent to which the use is interpreted as transformative as opposed to merely derivative.”
Peretti and the rest of Buzzfeed’s management believe its often sparsely annotated photo lists are transformative. Speaking to Alex Madrigal of The Atlantic, Peretti argued that a photo list of disappointed animals which neglected to credit photographers met the fair use standard because adding funny captions and putting the images in a particular order was “fundamentally transforming”.
That’s stretching the fair use exemption to breaking point and Buzzfeed has faced a number of legal challenges from photographers aggrieved at the unauthorised and unpaid use of their work.
Later in his interview with Madrigal, Peretti said:
“I would love if every image contained some secret metadata and a way to license that image. But the practical reality is that it is pretty challenging particularly in the web culture of animals and the images that spread on Pinterest and Tumblr.”
Peretti is full of it. With easy tools – including a simple Google image search – it is actually relatively easy to source the original creator of most images. And with Buzzfeed valued at over $200 million it has the resources to ensure that photographers, video makers and other creators are paid for their work. It seems it simply does not want to. And incidentally, the US’s 1976 Copyright Act states that you cannot republish something and claim a new copyright just because you struggle to find or cannot find the copyright owner.