Free Speech

Ben Smith: Why It Matters that Gawker, BuzzFeed News, and Breitbart News Failed

A decade ago, online startups seemed poised to vanquish legacy media. That didn't happen.


For today's episode, I talk with Ben Smith, the first editor in chief of recently shuttered BuzzFeed News, former New York Times media columnist, and founder of Semafor. In his new book Traffic: Genius, Rivalry, and Delusion in the Billion-Dollar Race To Go Viral, Smith charts the rise and fall of Gawker, The Huffington Post, Breitbart News, and his old employer.

In the '00s and early 2010s, these sites dominated news cycles and pulled millions of eyeballs due to their unique abilities to shape media narratives in surprising and irresistible ways. Indeed, it seemed they would define the new century while legacy outlets such as The New York Times would be lucky to survive in the new, massively online mediascape. Yet the rise of Donald Trump, revenge lawsuits, untimely deaths, and the vagaries of the internet ended up disrupting the disrupters.

Ben and I talk about all that, plus his controversial decision at BuzzFeed to publish the Steele Dossier, what the firings of Tucker Carlson and Don Lemon mean for journalism, and his aims for his new media platform, Semafor.

This episode was taped at The Reason Speakeasy, a monthly, unscripted conversation in New York City with outspoken defenders of free thinking and heterodoxy. It always provides a great evening of camaraderie and conversation about cutting-edge topics and ideas. Go here to sign up for future events in New York City.

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