The Mirror

BuzzFeed goes apocalyptic over Politico accusation that its Kiev coverage was clickbait

Betsy Rothstein Gossip blogger
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Are we LOL-ing yet?

Today Politico Magazine published a story sure to light a match under BuzzFeed. The author, Sarah Kendzior, a St. Louis writer, said Kiev coverage from outlets like BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Mashable, Talking Points Memo and HuffPost turned into clickbait after these publications resorted to listicles. ABC, BBC, and Wired didn’t fare much better in her story.

“A new genre had been born: the apocolypsticle,” she wrote.

Except there’s this fun fact: BuzzFeed has a reporter on the ground in Kiev; Politico does not. The Politico piece never mentions it.



The Politico Magazine story goes on to say that the Ukraine has never been very popular with mainstream media. Kendzior describes the coverage as the latest in “disaster porn.”

The story goes after BuzzFeed with a vengeance. So much for Politico and BuzzFeed benefitting from each other, as was promised by Politico Editor-in-Chief John Harris when BuzzFeed Chief Ben Smith left them for BuzzFeed. Those were the days when Smith was still writing a column for Politico while he settled into BuzzFeed.

“What does it mean for Ukrainians? Few apocalypsticle authors pose the question, because the only relevant question is what it means for them: traffic. Ask not what Buzzfeed can do for Ukrainians, but what dying Ukrainians can do for Buzzfeed. (Among the things Buzzfeed could not do: caption the photos or spell “Ukrainian” correctly.)” 

The author concludes, “In the era of disaster porn, watching people suffer provokes the same sly admission of guilt as watching people have sex.”

BuzzFeed’s spokeswoman directed me to Smith’s tweets, which said the following: “Media criticism is cheaper than hiring foreign correspondents. I love the implication that we have a reporter in Kiev and running coverage of Ukraine for ‘traffic.'”

Beyond that, BuzzFeed‘s spokeswoman didn’t give me many answers today. She’s in a bad mood. When asked if the relationship between BuzzFeed and Politico would sour over this experience, I was told she smelled “a troll” a mile away. I smell like vanilla bath gel today, not “troll” whatever that means. I have no idea what her accusation even means except an avoidance of answering my question. She ultimately said, “Dylan [Byers] is allowed to write about us as he pleases, so is any reporter for Politico mag. And of course, Ben’s allowed to voice thoughts on Twitter.”

I’m just glad we’re all getting along here.

Reaction to Smith’s assertions wasn’t all positive. Noah Hurowitz, an intern at New York Magazine, wrote, “Both are important. Was unfair to include great BuzzFeed coverage, but just being on the ground [does not equal] inherently good reporting.” And Washington Monthly freelancer Sam Knight lashed out, saying, “If this is your take, congratulations on being dumber than we all thought @BuzzFeedBen.”

And for Judd Legum, editor-in-chief of ThinkProgress, it got personal, or at least one degree away from being personal. “The Managing Editor of ThinkProgress was born in Ukraine,” he wrote. “We care!”