The American website, Buzzfeed, has carried out an investigation into the sprawling Italian media company, Web365, owned by the entrepreneur and conservative nationalist, Giancarlo Colono. The journalists discovered that the Rome-based organisation operates through a number of online platforms, ranging from dedicated websites to Facebook Pages, featuring tabloid-style stories on news events, celebrities, sports, health and consumer matters. So far, so normal for online publications. However, Buzzfeed argues that these articles are interspersed with a plethora of posts expressing far-right and xenophobic opinions.
The research gives a good insight into the business models of many online media companies, where a core group of producers/writers provide “content” to subsidiaries in the same corporation or to third party publications. I can’t count the number of times ASF has been offered free or paid content deals from larger organisations. Though, this might not be the scandal that Buzzfeed thinks it is. After all, it was common practice in the old press, both print and electronic, to redistribute and sell-on their reports and features to smaller rivals or partners. In fact, it made sound financial sense, and those articles often came with the particular editorial views of those who wrote them.
In essence then, what is the difference in a media grouping distributing its content through smaller websites, blogs and social networking platforms and the New York Times or Washington Post having some of their articles republished by local town newspapers in the American Mid-West? That is what is happening right now, especially as press rooms are being downsized and rationalised, with regional papers folding or being merged all over the world. The print model has simply been adapted for the online model, albeit with far greater central control and orchestration.
However, I did find this self-righteous condemnation of Web365 by the Buzzfeed reporters rather amusing:
“This network of sites and Facebook pages represents one of the most popular alternative media operations in Italy, and sheds light on the overlap between the fringe underbelly of the Catholic world, Italy’s nationalist movements, and for-profit clickbait.
The content on Colono’s news sites and pages ranges from viral clickbait and quick takes on the day’s headlines to misleading or alarmist stories about tragic events and hyperpartisan pieces about immigration that echo nationalist and Islamophobic rhetoric.
In an email exchange with BuzzFeed News last Tuesday, Colono said Web365 employs only six staff and several professional journalists, illustrating how a small team can use the power of Facebook to reach millions of people.”
Okay. But doesn’t that sound like Buzzfeed itself, albeit with a liberal slant? The American website describes itself for the benefit of internet search engines, primarily Google and Yahoo/Bing search, in this manner:
“BuzzFeed has breaking news, vital journalism, quizzes, videos, celeb news, Tasty food videos, recipes, DIY hacks, and all the trending buzz you’ll want to share”
The very definition of for-profit click-bait!