BF calls BS

Websites including the Daily Mirror and Metro in the UK and the New York Daily News in the US duly published the story, alongside an image showing the teacher posing poolside in her bikini. “Teacher suspended after sex session with teen pupil ends up on hardcore porn website,” read the Mirror’s headline. The Daily Mail – the most successful English-language newspaper website in the world – even went so far as to claim that there would be a criminal investigation, and that this wasn’t the first time that the teacher in question had sexual relations with a student.
There was just one problem: It wasn’t true.
So how did this fake story make the leap from South America to the English-language press? The answer is tucked away in the bottom right-hand corner of the photo of the woman in her bikini: a credit labelled “CEN”.
Central European News (CEN) and its sister outfit EuroPics are small news agencies, largely unknown outside certain sections of the media, whose headquarters are in Canterbury in the UK (although they claim to have 35 staff based in offices across central and eastern Europe). In recent years, CEN has become one of the Western media’s primary sources of tantalising and attention-grabbing stories. They’re often bizarre, salacious, gruesome, or ideally all three: If you’ve read a story about someone in a strange country cutting off their own penis, the chances are it came from CEN.

The full crazy story here. The same conditions that reward viral news like much of what's on Buzzfeed also work on behalf of CEN. So it's some poetic justice that Buzzfeed did the legwork on debunking so many of CEN's stories. It reminds me of those movies like Blackhat in which the government has to release a hacker from prison to chase down other hackers, or a thief to catch a thief.

At the bottom of the piece, Buzzfeed publishes a list of stories they previously sourced from CEN. It's an amusing collection of headlines.

Buzzfeed: giving you what you'll share

The heavyweight personalization that social networks do either through something like the follow graph on Twitter or through more algorithmic approach on Facebook is designed to give people the stuff that they want. What we're focused on is giving people stuff that they think is worth sharing with other people. We want the stories we're doing to have the biggest possible impact. So if we do personalization, it would be more of a personalization about what you’re most likely to share or discuss with your friends.

That's Jonah Peretti on what type of personalization Buzzfeed focuses on, emphasis mine on what is a subtle but important focusing distinction for the service.

In the traditional news bundle, say in old school print newspapers, the mix of serious versus entertaining content was weighted much more to the former. Now that technology has allowed the creation of more personalized bundles of information, sites like Buzzfeed and the social networks like Facebook and Twitter are showing us people's natural preference in the mix of heavy versus light, and it turns out that ratio is much more weighted towards the fun.

As in the newspaper days, the entertaining content still subsidizes, to a large extent, the serious journalism. Buzzfeed is starting to do some original reporting, but more likely than not it's ad revenue from listicles and the more “frivolous” content that will pick up the tab for both. Plus ça change.


I asked for something like this on Twitter a while back, and the lazyweb gods have answered: a Safari and Chrome extension that takes articles from popular sites that are broken across multiple pages to boost page views and merges them into one page. It saves you the trouble of finding the Print or Single Page link and clicking it yourself which seems like a minor annoyance but becomes a massive one when multiplied across dozens of articles every day. [hat tip to Daring Fireball]

No doubt about it, serious news organizations are in a tough bind trying to monetize. But making the user experience significantly worse to protect display ad revenue is attacking the symptom, not the problem. The problem is that most advertising is lousy and ineffective, and users, given a choice, will try to avoid it. In most news organizations, I'm guessing the journalists sit on a different floor or in a different wing from the ad sales team. It's not in their nature to try to actually improve the effectiveness of the advertising in a meaningful way; advertising has always been the second class citizen that pays the bills.

If you have a product or service that has many close substitutes, and if the core of your revenue model is something you don't spend a large percentage of your mindshare obsessing over, it's not surprising that your entire business is vulnerable. Even successful market leaders consistently fortify potential vulnerabilities. Think about how much Amazon obsesses over logistics, or how far up the supply chain Apple has invested in materials and chipsets. 

Most people think of Google as a search company, but they have some of the smartest people in their company optimizing and improving AdWords, their primary source of revenue. Their ad auction model is continually refined by mathematicians and economists (sometimes those are one and the same). They try to improve their advertising for the entities on both sides of the exchange -- the advertisers and the end users -- by maximizing interaction rates.

When was the last time we heard any journalists or news organizations talking about the effectiveness of their display ads online?