Netflix Partners with BuzzFeed for New Documentary Series

BuzzFeed will partner with Netflix on a new original documentary series, the website announced in an internal email on Wednesday.

The series, “Follow This,” will chronicle the lives of journalists as they follow a unique story and from the looks of a Netflix press release — those journalists will mostly work at BuzzFeed.

“No platform for shows [is] bigger than Netflix right now,” said Editor in Chief Ben Smith in the internal company memo, a copy of which was obtained by TheWrap. Smith called the partnership “an auspicious sign of things to come.” Smith also revealed that two episodes had already been filmed and “in the can.”

Also Read: BuzzFeed Chief Defends Trump Pee Dossier: ‘I’m Proud We Published’

One of those episodes was teased by NetFlix themselves Wednesday.

“The first episode, The Internet Whisperers, follows BuzzFeed reporter Scaachi Koul, as she explores the curious world of autonomous sensory meridian response — or ASMR — and some of its most enthusiastic proponents,” a press release from Netflix said.

Simply put, ASMR refers to people who enjoy sensory stimulation and ASMR YouTube videos consist of someone or something creating some form of repetitive noise. A preview of the episode on YouTube reveals Koul listening to a lot of ASMR and describing her experience.

“For me when ASMR works it creates this sort of tingling feeling in my spine and my brain. I have a busy life and a hectic job. This is one thing that quiets my brain,” said Koul.

You can watch the preview above.

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Trump Attorney Michael Cohen Drops Libel Suits Against BuzzFeed Over Dossier Publication

Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s embattled attorney, has dropped two libel suits he had pursued against BuzzFeed over the website’s publication of the so-called dossier that allegedly contains damning details about President Donald Trump.
The move came late Wednesday and was first reported in Politico. Cohen has been scrambling to recover files and documents seized in federal raids of his home, office and hotel room last week.
BuzzFeed’s decision to publish the dossier…

Michael Cohen Withdraws Libel Suits Against BuzzFeed, Fusion GPS

Michael Cohen has withdrawn his libel suit against BuzzFeed and Fusion GPS, a lawyer for the Trump attorney revealed on Thursday.

“The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one,” Cohen attorney David Schwartz told Politico Thursday, which reported the news. “We believe the defendants defamed my client, and vindicating Mr. Cohen’s rights was — and still remains — important. But given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits.”

Schwartz did not immediately respond to request for comment from TheWrap.

Also Read: Fox News ‘Surprised’ by Hannity’s Ties to Trump’s Lawyer, Stands by Him Anyway

The longtime Trump fixer had been suing both companies for their role in the now legendary dossier compiled by ex-British intelligence agent Christopher Steele. The dossier — which was paid for by Fusion and published by BuzzFeed — is the origin of the so-called “pee tape” and rumors that the president had a urine-filled encounter with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room in 2013.

In a statement to TheWrap, BuzzFeed defended its decision to publish the dossier.

“The lawsuits against BuzzFeed over the Steele dossier have never been about the merits of our decision to publish it. If there’s one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on today, it’s that the dossier was an important part of the government’s investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia,” said BuzzFlack Matt Mittenthal.

Also Read: ‘Morning Joe’ Feels Sorry for ‘Good Guy’ Michael Cohen: ‘Very Gentle’ (Video)

“Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious. Today’s news suggests that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time.”

Cohen’s decision comes as his own legal troubles mount. Last week, his offices and personal apartment were raided by the FBI and this week it was revealed that — in addition to Trump — Cohen had some legal relationship with Fox News host Sean Hannity.

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BuzzFeed Names Melinda Lee As First Chief Content Officer

BuzzFeed has named its first chief content officer, tapping former Meredith VP and general manager of video Melinda Lee.
Lee will join BuzzFeed next month and will be in charge of the BuzzFeed Media Brands division, which includes recipe site Tasty, fashion’s Nifty, the beauty site As/Is, healthy food-focused Goodful, and millennial parents platform Playfull, the latter a joint venture with NBCUniversal.
BuzzFeed Media Brands was created in December following a massive…

Melinda Lee Named Chief Content Officer of BuzzFeed Media Brands

BuzzFeed has named Melinda Lee as its first-ever chief content officer of BuzzFeed Media Brands, the company announced Tuesday. The newly formed division will include lifestyle brand Tasty, home brand Nifty, and health and wellness brand Goodful, along with two new outlets: beauty and style brand As/Is and parenting brand Playfull. Lee, who formerly served […]

Facebook Hires BuzzFeed’s Matthew Henick in Media-Partnerships Role

Matthew Henick is exiting his post as head of BuzzFeed’s entertainment studio to join Facebook’s media partnerships team. Facebook has hired Henick as head of content planning and strategy, media partnerships. Henick will report to Nick Grudin, Facebook’s VP of media partnerships, and is relocating from L.A. to the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, Calif. […]

BuzzFeed Had 65 Billion Video Views in 2017. But What Does That Mean for Ad Dollars?

BuzzFeed was the No. 1 media company in online video last year — delivering a whopping 64.8 billion views across Facebook and YouTube. But the extent to which BuzzFeed was able to monetize that traffic is another question. About 110 BuzzFeed brands generated an aggregate of 57.4 billion Facebook video views and 7.4 billion on […]

Lauren Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective in Talks to Back BuzzFeed News

Emerson Collective, the social impact enterprise founded by Lauren Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, is in talks to back BuzzFeed’s news division, Variety has been able to confirm. Talks between the two companies are said to be in very preliminary stages, and have not yet reached the stage of high-level business […]

BuzzFeed Reshuffles Entertainment Group, Ze Frank Shifted to R&D Role

Ze Frank is no longer running BuzzFeed’s entertainment division, and the digital-media company has reorganized the group with a more distributed structure. Frank, a four-year BuzzFeed veteran, has been appointed to the newly created role of chief research and development officer. He will head up a small R&D team focused on “creating production models for […]

BuzzFeed Chief Defends Trump Pee Dossier: ‘I’m Proud We Published’

One year after BuzzFeed published former MI6 operative Christopher Steele’s private intelligence dossier alleging Donald Trump’s ties to Russia (sometimes known in certain circles as the “pee dossier”), the website’s editor in chief Ben Smith is defending the decision.

In a New York Times op-ed posted Tuesday night just as word broke that Trump attorney Michael Cohen had filed a defamation suit against BuzzFeed over the story, Smith declared that he was “proud we published the Trump-Russia dossier.”

“A year of government inquiries and blockbuster journalism has made clear that the dossier is unquestionably real news,” said Smith. “We strongly believed that publishing the disputed document whose existence we and others were reporting was in the public interest.”

Also Read: Trump’s Lawyer Sues BuzzFeed, Fusion GPS for ‘Defamation’ Over Russia Dossier

In his op-ed, Smith asserted that the dossier provided critical context for the American public to understand the actions of the various political players in the metastasizing investigation of Trump and his campaign’s ties to Russia. Smith also dismissed media “traditionalists” who accused him of publishing “fake news.”

“We never bought the notion, made by the traditionalists, that a main threat to journalism is that journalists might be too transparent with their audience. Keeping the reporting process wrapped in mystery only helps those who oppose the free press,” said Smith.

Controversy, however, continues to simmer, most recently Trump lawyer and confidante Michael Cohen filed suit against the website for defamation over the issue.

The dossier was prepared by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele for the strategic intelligence firm Fusion GPS. Its most explosive claims — that the Russian government has a trove of compromising material on Trump, including video a pee filled dalliance with several Russia prostitutes in 2013 — remain unverified.

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Trump’s Lawyer Sues Buzzfeed, Fusion GPS for ‘Defamation’ Over Russia Dossier

Michael Cohen, a personal lawyer for Donald Trump, has filed defamation lawsuits in New York state court against Buzzfeed and Fusion GPS over the Steel Dossier, the now infamous “golden showers” memo alleging Russia has blackmail material on the president. The dossier was compiled by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele for Fusion GPS during the 2016 presidential election, and published by Buzzfeed on Jan. 10, 2017.

Cohen announced the suits Tuesday evening, saying on Twitter “Enough is enough of the #fake #RussianDossier. Just filed a defamation action against @BuzzFeedNews for publishing the lie filled document on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and me!”

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In the lawsuit filed against Fusion, obtained by TheWrap, Cohen asserts that “[t]his action arises from the immensely damaging and defamatory statements made by Defendants against Plaintiff through widely disseminated political opposition reports commissioned by opponents of presidential candidate Donald Trump. Defendants, a D.C.-based political opposition research firm and its principal, Glenn Simpson, published these reports, which came to be known as the “Dossier,” in advance of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

The suit names Bean LLC, d/b/a Fusion GPS, and Glenn Simpson, as defendants.

In the suit against Buzzfeed, posted online by ABC, Cohen decries “false, damaging, and highly inflammatory statements” he says were made about him in the dossier, and accuses Buzzfeed of failing to attempt to “determine the veracity of these reports with Plaintiff himself.”

The suit names Buzzfeed, INC., Ben Smith, Ken Bensigner, Miriam Elder, and Mark Schoofs as defendants.

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Cohen says statements about him contained in the dossier, including that he has family ties to Russia, are untrue and have damaged him professionally.

Soon after the dossier was published, Christopher Steele went into hiding citing concern for his and his family’s safety.

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BuzzFeed White House Correspondent Fired Over Inappropriate Text Messages to Colleagues

BuzzFeed has fired White House correspondent Adrian Carrasquillo on Wednesday for sending inappropriate messages to a colleague, the company said.

The company did not elaborate on the nature of the texts but a person with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap that Carrasquillo, who has been with the company since 2013, sent an inappropriate group text to the employee as well as a number of other colleagues. He had previously warned about his behavior a month and a half ago.

BuzzFeed spokesman Matt Mittenthal told TheWrap in a statement: “In responding to a complaint filed last week by an employee, we learned that Adrian violated our Code of Conduct by sending an inappropriate message to a colleague. This followed a recent reminder about our prohibition against inappropriate communications. We are saddened by these circumstances, but we take these issues extremely seriously. We’re committed to ensuring that BuzzFeed remains a place where everyone is treated respectfully by his or her peers.”

Also Read: BuzzFeed Memo Addresses Sexual Harassment After ‘Sh-ty Media Men’ Report

BuzzFeed began an investigation into several of its employees after their names appeared on the now-infamous “S—-y Media Men,” a recent Google spreadsheet listed with unverified allegations against men in the media, which also included Carrasquillo, according to Business Insider.

Messages to Carrasquillo over Twitter went unanswered Wednesday.

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BuzzFeed Editor: ‘All I Want For Christmas Is Full Communism Now’

A science editor at BuzzFeed UK raised a few eyebrows last week after some curious remarks about Communism.

“All I want for Christmas is full Communism now,” editor Kelly Oakes tweeted — before locking down her account after it was picked by right-wing media and the always ferocious James Woods.

The screenshots tell the story.

Also Read: BuzzFeed Reporter Apologizes for ‘Very Dumb’ Remarks About Communism

#BuzzFeed editor. Enough said. pic.twitter.com/zShnRtd7sO

— James Woods (@RealJamesWoods) December 17, 2017

A spokesperson for BuzzFeed declined to comment on the matter. Oakes, who does not report to the website’s U.S.-based science desk, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Critics pointed out that Communism as practiced by the Soviet Union, China and North Korea has led to the deaths of over 100 million people, according to the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

It’s not the first time BuzzFeed has gotten into hot water over their editorial staff tweeting their open sympathy toward Communism.

Also Read: BuzzFeed to Lay Off 100 Staffers After Missing Revenue Goal

In November, BuzzFeed reporter Blake Montgomery blasted a White House proclamation memorializing victims of Communism and tweeted out his belief that the term “victims of Communism” was just dog whistle and a “white nationalist talking point.”

The tweet was swiftly deleted and Montgomery apologized.

BuzzFeed reporter — tweet now deleted pic.twitter.com/SnhdejYUle

— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) November 8, 2017

“I didn’t mean in any way to diminish the many real victims of communism, and my tweet was a bad misintrepretation [sic] of the president’s declaration. I’ve deleted it,” he wrote. “I cover white nationalists, and they use that language a lot, which is why I made that very dumb mistake.”

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What’s the Cure for Ailing Mashable, BuzzFeed and Other Online News Sites?

The news this week that Mashable would lay off 50 employees in the wake of a fire sale to Ziff Davis for $50 million is a sign of the times in digital news.

Just two years ago the company was valued at $250 million and won $15 million in new funding from Time Warner. Now a plunging valuation has become a painfully common affair across the digital space for both small players and industry titans.

Last week, BuzzFeed axed 100 employees and delayed a planned IPO after missing expected 2017 revenues by as much as 20 percent. A traffic drop prompted Mic.com’s much-maligned “pivot to video” — and dozens of layoffs. Vice also missed earnings, but you may have overlooked that story as the company prepared for what is expected to be a brutal piece in the New York Times about the company’s issues with sexual misconduct.

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“Digital media publishers are looking for scale,” said Michael J. Wolf, CEO of Active, Inc., a management consulting firm for tech and media companies. “We’re at a point now where there aren’t many of these companies. You could look at Mashable and say it’s just too small. The other reason these companies need to get larger is because they need to be move their businesses into video.”

Scale, however, is far from the only problem. As a growing number of people consume content from Google and social media, companies like Mashable find themselves in an increasingly untenable situation. As distribution algorithms are constantly tweaked, media shops are left constantly scrambling, playing the role of digital soothsayers to a hostile web.

One former Mashable senior staffer told TheWrap that social media changes took a brutal toll on traffic during his tenure and that the company constantly was left floundering with no real strategy for developing other revenue streams.

Also Read: Mashable Lays Off Staff, Top Editor in Shift to TV

A similar story played out at news website Mic.com.

“It provides an opportunity where people think there is a system to play, a game to play. You start designing stories to play into an algorithm,” said a former senior editorial employee at Mic. “Then you start picking stories based on what will do well on Facebook. People start to focus on that and not the news itself.”

To that end, the company often employed what were known internally as framings, creating formulas like “In One Tweet [Sharable Person] Just [Thing Done].” A small cottage industry of “one tweet” posts were produced to document the pronouncements of author J.K. Rowling.

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Some examples include:

“In One tweet, JK Rowling shaded all the men asking why there’s no ‘Men’s Day’”

“In One Tweet, J.K. Rowling Just Sparked the Most Magical Celebration of Equality Eve”
“One Tweet from J.K. Rowling Perfectly Shuts Down Rupert Murdoch’s Anti-Muslim Rhetoric”
“In One Tweet, JK Rowling Tells Mic We’re Wrong”

The dependence on social media has put many outlets in a bind, David Cohn, Senior Director at Advanced Publications, told TheWrap. Media sites can’t ignore Facebook; they need to leverage the social network’s massive platform to funnel readers towards its content. But the money they’re making, in comparison to the gargantuan ad sales Facebook and Google rake in, is negligible. (The duopoly accounts for 85 percent of all internet ad growth, and combined will make more than $100 billion in ad revenue in 2017, according to Mary Meeker’s annual report.)

“That generation — [sites like] NowThis, Circa — it’s a negotiation, and they’re in a weaker hand. And the reason they’re in this pickle is because they don’t have this strong hand to demand strong tools to monetize. Facebook has that upper hand, so Facebook can monetize,” said Cohn.

Also Read: When Digital Media’s ‘Pivot to Video’ Goes Wrong

He pointed to NowThis as a textbook representation of new school media’s symbiotic relationship with Facebook.

“NowThis is really just a content creator for Facebook, that’s the relationship. Facebook is the distributor and NowThis is the studio — not unlike the movie studio and the movie theater,” added Cohn. “The situation we find here is that the distributors, the Facebooks and social platforms, are in a much better position to monetize, and in a much better position to dictate, because they own the product.”

As companies scramble for answers, outlets have increasingly turned to video to maintain their weakened grasp of the audience. But the pivot to video isn’t a surefire panacea. Mark Bonner, former managing editor at International Business Times, recently told TheWrap the strategy was anything but a silver bullet for the company. By adding autoplay clips, IBT aimed to keep eyeballs on the screen longer and, in turn, boost its ad revenue. That didn’t happen.

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“[The pivot to video] was forced on us, and I never got an explanation why, but I can only guess they were looking at the balance sheets and saying ‘this is a fast way for us to make up some gains,’” said Bonner. “It didn’t work, as far as I can tell, because we all got laid off.”

Compounding matters, goals put in place by many of the big money venture capital firms backing these companies has undermined the drive of their editorial teams. An obsession with traffic first, quality journalism second, has stymied the industry. And the impact of VC — and its share of the blame in the media-wide downturn — isn’t lost on those that have seen it firsthand.

“So many of these companies got a lot of VC [venture capital] funding and then at companies, like a BuzzFeed and Mashable, there’s an emphasis on growth. The way to grow is to get hits and the way to get hits is to publish stories that gets hits, not necessarily stories about hard news,” said the former senior Mic employee. “That shifts things away from journalism towards traffic and when you do journalism for traffic rather than for journalism, that takes the sail out of journalists, makes it harder to stay focused, and makes it much more of a business and commodity.”

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So what’s the path forward? Cohn sees more companies turning to a “hybrid” business model — somewhere along the spectrum between BuzzFeed’s obsession with scale, and smaller subscription-based outlets like The Information. At the same time, the million dollar question boils down to how tech and media companies find a working relationship moving forward. The hysteria over social media wiping traditional outlets off the map is overstated, but fostering a more beneficial arrangement for quality content will have to be made.

“In truth, they need each other, and when push comes to shove, these tech giants know that and understand that. You can’t surf Google if no one’s producing content, and it means nothing to share content on Facebook if there isn’t good content being made,” said Cohn. “And there’s only so many cat photos people that people can really share. There has to be substantive stuff.” 

(Disclaimer: TheWrap media editor Jon Levine was formerly a staff writer at Mic).

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BuzzFeed Sheds 100 Jobs, Moves President Greg Coleman Into Unspecified Role

BuzzFeed, long the poster child for pure-digital growth, is shedding 100 jobs in a significant restructuring, and president Greg Coleman is transitioning into a new, unspecified role.
The layoffs, confirmed in a staff memo from CEO Jonah Peretti, will affect mainly the company’s “business” unit. The group “was built to support direct sold advertising but will need to bring in different, more diverse expertise,” Peretti wrote. “As our strategy evolves, we need to evolve…

BuzzFeed to Lay Off 100 Staffers After Missing Revenue Goal

BuzzFeed will lay off around 100 employees after the company missed revenue targets earlier this year, TheWrap has learned. The company employees roughly 1,700 people worldwide.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced the news to staff in a company-wide email.

“As our strategy evolves, we need to evolve our organization, too — particularly our business team, which was built to support direct-sold advertising but will need to bring in different, more diverse expertise,” said Peretti.

Also Read: Armie Hammer Deletes His Twitter After ‘Bitter’ BuzzFeed Article

“We’ll be significantly expanding our investment to grow our lifestyle brands and additional new areas, and at the same time making necessary reductions in other areas that will impact employees on our U.S. Business team and in the U.K.”

In addition, Peretti announced that Greg Coleman will step down as president of BuzzFeed to become a senior adviser to the company. Chief Revenue Officer Lee Brown will now report directly to Peretti, who continues his search for a new chief operating officer.

The cuts come amid reports that the company expects to fall short of its revenue targets by as much as 20 percent this year.

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