Who knew? Oh yeah, those of us who used to work in media.
This pair of articles, from incensed, and righteously indignant folks about this seeming new phenomenon which can’t be anything other than a fresh awakening to the economics of the situation they fostered, created, and now are suddenly upset by.
Let’s deconstruct for a few minutes, shall we the systemic problem, not the “new” one that they seem to make this. It is no different from any systemic problems, and the same people get rich off the unpaid labor of the many are doing so in this situation.
1. BuzzFeed Has A Copyright Infringement Problem
Curated content is currently the hottest thing in lazy, click-baity online journalism with Twitter and Reddit being favourite sources for aggregator sites like BuzzFeed to mine content from. Half t…
This has happened one, or several, too many times for BuzzFeed to get away with pretending that these are genuine mistakes any more.
2. The Dark Side of BuzzFeed by Kat Blaque
Filming was easy, but I was discussing something that was very personal to me: Being transgender. I was nervous about this because, at the time, I was so nervous about being outed as a trans person to my employers, but I thought to myself that this video is more important than me and that surely Buzzfeed would reach a lot of people and this video would change a lot of minds… and it did. It also caused me to be outed to my employers and eventually my landlord and long story short: I had to find a new place to live. Buzzfeed paid me nothing and I signed papers ensuring as much.
+Commentary: No, they really do not have an infringement problem, and if we are going to suddenly make this an issue, then we need to look at the cause & effect, with the systemic participation in a system you now want to decry. That watching these millennials whine about a system they not only participated in daily for years, but then used or exploited for their own personal brand or “exposure,” while putting qualified people who were older, and had a history of getting paid for it, out of work isn’t new.
That they are suddenly “woke” to it, that it suddenly affects their pocketbook, when there is someone out there with even less standards, lower self-esteem, and no morals who is of their generation, their colleagues, their activist baes, et al… and now they have a problem. Now they want it to stop?
Again systemically it isn’t the front line people at fault, Gawker, Huffington Post, and others have long taken user-generated content, work for free, and so forth to exploit free material to keep all the profit for themselves. That is and has been their business model, their lean startup ideal which they all emulate. Who gets shafted in the process? Creatives.
What the two articles above highlight, and continue to highlight is how little value these young people actually associate with their brand. That their newly woke status, doesn’t let them see, that their fave is, and has always been hella problematic. They were problematic when you did a video for them, and long before. That their entire generation as the Kat Blaque piece slyly notes wanted to become famous from the exposure a BuzzFeed or Huffington Post suggests. Yet it goes deeper than that, and has many more tentacles.
That they don’t know or see, that there was a whole class of creatives who worked in media (“new media” we called it then) who are unemployed, unemployable, and if they do work it has to be at rates that are paid these interns, wannabes, and aspirants. Which is repulsive and as such many have pivoted to other jobs or careers that pay a more liveable wage. That millennials have collectively lowered the bargaining power forever of an entire class of creatives. Writers, video producers, and others all have to beggar for low-paying, menial work, along with everyone else.
The burning of bridges or the awakening that everything they once aspired to ~ the internet fame & exposure were on the backs of those who came before them, who are now unemployable, because for years now, they would do it for “exposure” then you see how as a generation you were complicit in creating the situation you now fault. That what is admirable about both of these clarion calls is their insistince to stop supporting BuzzFeed.
Starting a petition is great, getting a hashtag going (#StopBuzzTheives) is also laudable, but it doesn’t change the fact that honestly the system is and has been broken for sometime now. That the economics of these digital native platforms, which are there to appeal to the digitally native young people, who just like Tumblr-ites don’t give a damn about attribution, is beyond ironic. That on any given day people lift entire tweets & use them, and yet we get mad at the thieves, not the platforms.
In these cases, which should be taken seriously, but placed in both the historical context, and the set of systems which not only make it possible but profitable. That were this campaign even partially successful in gutting Buzzfeed, getting them to shutter shop, their videos wouldn’t even be mimicked, they’d be found in the “freebooting” phenomenon on Facebook continually, while that platforms’ advertisers (mostly small business and pages) would reap the benefit of the war raging with YouTube to become the video platform of choice. No one in that case to rally against or send your petition.
Yet freebooting isn’t the only problem, that quietly dismantling YouTube as a source of video goes much deeper, and there is a very real seismic shift, especially post-Chewbacca Mom phenomenon. Where now we are also competing for “Live” feeds that continue to captivate, and hold the short-attention spans and trigger happy share fingers. Periscopes, Vines, and other new directions that are mobile-centric, shorter, and easily consumed is a trend.
(statement/subtweet from Ella Mielniczenko, Executie Producer at Buzzfeed about the situation)
That industry-wise Buzzfeed reported losses for its video unit, so the argument that it is “profitable” or we are to hit them where it hurts is also ahistoric but relatable. If they could just stick it to the man, instead of realizing the entire industry they are operating in, and hope to create change within is deeply flawed. If they slashed their video revenue in half, that means they are operating with less, that theft will be more common. That said we shouldn’t allow it to happen, but what these activists will realize unironically, is what the older generation did. That just because you won’t do it for free/exposure, there is a whole bunch of people that will.
That don’t have the privilege to demand more, that neither have the platform, or the followers to leverage. They will continue to ‘do it for the vine’ and continue to sell themselves short. Undercutting whatever line of resistance you have now arbitrarily drawn in the sand.
This second longer statement, just seems like overkill, if it is this important and you have a platform like BuzzFeed, why not make a blog post? You have a news division, why not have someone from that cover it like it is news, admitting your bias and connection to the story obviously? These set of tweets are not good PR, they aren’t even good tweets. They obfuscate, based largely on the premise that, hey nothing is original. How has that ever worked out when talking to creatives?
But sources say that BuzzFeed’s business model—which includes BuzzFeed making customized content campaigns for brands—is hard to do at scale. “It takes too long to do each campaign, and you can only do so many,” one source told the Financial Times. (APRIL 12, 2016)
The sector is in a tight spot, and this movement coming as it is should make people reflect on how and what they consume. Whether that is a Tasty video, or a Buzzfeed one, they are all corrosive to creatives everywhere. Now that the idea has dawned on them they’d like to get paid, after years of giving it away for free, without consideration for the people who used to be paid for it, having those jobs replaced by “influencers” who now see their influence is easily imitated, their ‘jobs’ easily replaced (or stolen), that an intern with the resources, art department, and whatever else can be employed to mimic whatever you have done, will do, or might think of doing is paramount.
Again the attention this is, and will, receive should be welcome. To highlight only the ‘millennial’ aspect seems as if it isn’t your generation (in managerial positions) that isn’t exploiting you to keep their salaried jobs. To not realize that you have been taken for a fool, starting many years ago, and that you literally bankrupted many creative people in your wake, and to call on their support as well, to create a movement by which every facet of the creatives is paid more, not just the 1% of the media elite. Not just make this about your own “brand” and your generation’s, but to honestly create something more circumspect, thoughtful, and far reaching is necessary.
All creatives are impoverished by the current paradigm, and we need each voice if we are to dismantle the system by which they extract our creativity and hard work, and turn it into snackable morsels that they can then feed as profit to their bottom-line shareholders. If it isn’t BuzzFeed, it will be someone else tomorrow. There is never going to be a drought of content-thieves in the current epoch.
It is time we all valued creative work more than we currently do. For giving it away is killing us, and taking food off all our plates.