×

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti: Paywalls Are Bad for Democracy

News publishers who move their products behind paywalls and only serve paying audiences don’t serve democracy, argued BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti at the Wall Street Journal’s WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., Wednesday. “If you are thinking about an electorate, the subscription model in media doesn’t support the broad public,” he said.

Peretti admitted that subscription news content may be a good business model for newspapers like the Wall Street Journal. But he also outlined a dystopian view, painting a picture of a future in which only a wealthy elite would get access to good journalism from papers like the Journal and the New York Times, leaving the vast majority of the public with clickbait and fake news spreading on social platforms.

“It’s a big question for democracy: The business model of news is changing,” he said. “That’s a big challenge for the world.”

However, Peretti also said that he has also seen big tech companies stepping up to solve these problems through new revenue streams, and increased revenue for ad-supported content. For instance, BuzzFeed has seen big increases in revenue from Facebook Instant articles.

Peretti admitted that working with Facebook and the like also means having to quickly adapt if and when these companies change course, and emphasize certain features or phase out products. “For us, it’s great. The more change, the better,” he said.

At the same time, Peretti said that BuzzFeed doesn’t try to tweak its content based on each and every small change. “We try to not think too much about the algorithm,” he said. “The algorithm is always flawed, and it’s always changing.”

To prove his point, Peretti cited the videos BuzzFeed has been producing under its Tasty and Nifty brands, which are all about cooking and DIY projects, respectively. These videos may get the same amount of shares as a viral news clip, he said, but result in a deeper engagement.

“A large chunk of them will spend their entire weekend building that product,” he said. Algorithms would not know about this type of follow-up engagement. BuzzFeed is trying to track it through engaging with its audience, said Peretti: “We know that’s a deeper, more meaningful thing.”

Popular on Variety

More Digital

  • Neilsons Measurment Problems TV Digital

    AT&T's Ad-Tech Unit Xandr Buys Clypd To Help Place TV Commercials More Precisely

    Xandr, the AT&T ad-technology unit, has purchased a new company that helps advertisers use data to place commercials in front of the audiences most likely to want to watch them The AT&T division said Friday it had acquired clypd, a company that helps advertisers move forward in a growing desire by Madison Avenue to run [...]

  • AT&T Logo Building

    AT&T TV Now Price Hike Coming Next Month, Base Package to Cost $65

    AT&T is instituting a substantial price hike for its live TV streaming service AT&T TV Now: Customers who have subscribed to the service’s basic “Plus” package will see their bill go up by $15, to a total of $65 per month, starting next month. The telco has started to inform existing subscribers about the price [...]

  • Disney-Family-Movies

    Disney Family Movies SVOD Service Is Shutting Down Ahead of Disney Plus Debut

    After 11 years, Disney is pulling the plug on Disney Family Movies On Demand — with the service’s shutdown coming just days before the launch of the Mouse House’s Disney Plus. Disney Family Movies, which cost between $5-$10 per month, has been available via pay-TV providers in the U.S., including Comcast Xfinity, Charter Communications, Verizon [...]

  • Amazon Orders ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham

    Amazon Orders ‘All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur’ Soccer Doc Series

    Amazon has greenlit a new “All or Nothing” sports documentary series, this time following London-based soccer team Tottenham Hotspur. “All or Nothing: Tottenham Hotspur” will follow a year in the life of the team, charting the ongoing 2019-20 season. The squad made it to the final of the European Champions League last year, losing to [...]

  • Jeffrey Katzenberg

    Jeffrey Katzenberg's Quibi Picks T-Mobile as Wireless Launch Partner

    Quibi, the short-form mobile TV service founded by Jeffrey Katzenberg, announced a pact with T-Mobile to be the official telecommunications partner for its April 2020 launch. T-Mobile will be the exclusive wireless distributor when Quibi launches next spring. However, the arrangement doesn’t mean only T-Mobile customers will be able to subscribe to Quibi: Anyone will [...]

  • Steve Kornacki

    Steve Kornacki, Chris Matthews Stand at Center of New NBC News Podcasts

    After vowing to press ahead more directly into the world of podcasts, NBC News is readying the launch of three additional audio shows centered around politics. “Article II: Inside Impeachment” will help listeners understand the impeachment process. The program, new episodes of which are slated to debut Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays as people head for [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content