Buzzfeed international boss: Uber controversy ‘will change way people think about us’

Buzzfeed's Scott Lamb speaking at today's Publish event in Sydney

Buzzfeed’s Scott Lamb speaking at today’s Publish event in Sydney

The international head of Buzzfeed says the recent international media controversy around Uber demonstrates that the social viral content website can deliver hard news and break global stories.

“This is a great example of the type of news BuzzFeed News goes after. Exclusives, scoops, things that no one else has and move the story forward,” Scott Lamb told Mumbrella at the sidelines of the Publish Conference, at Doltone House in Sydney.

“This story, in particular, is really going to change the way people think about Uber as a company but it is exactly the type of thing that the news side of Buzzfeed is trying to do,” he said, referring to a story published by Buzzfeed two days ago, which has caused a global media storm after it claimed Uber executives targeted the personal details of journalists who wrote unfavourable stories about the company.

According to Buzzfeed, executives from the ride sharing service Uber had allegedly been tracking a PandoDaily editor who had written negative stories about the company  via a ‘god view’ function on the service without her permission and in violation of its privacy policy.

Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed quoted Uber’s Emil Michael discussing the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists as a that team could, he said, help Uber fight back against negative press. Kalanick later said he had made the comments off the record.

“I think new media are having an increasing impact in the business sector,” said Lamb. “In the US there are a whole host of online publications like Vox, Mashable etc. that are breaking real news in business, politics and technology. I think we will see more of that type of thing coming out of that sector.”

Asked about a new article by journalist Michael Wolff who alleged that Ben Smith should have known that the remarks by Kalanick were off the record, and therefore not for publication, Lamb said: “From my understanding it was never made clear to Ben that any of that evening was off the record but I haven’t read Michael’s piece so I can’t really comment.”

During his speech at Publish Conference at Doltone House Lamb argued people still wanted news both short and long form in the digital environment but said the challenge was around how that was packaged.

“One of the pieces of conventional wisdom about publishing has been that people don’t like to share news, that they won’t read long or difficult things (online),” he said.

“Our experience has been the opposite – I think there is a real hunger in the digital landscape for news and information. I think people want it packaged in a different way than how it has packaged in the past but that basic human instinct for finding out what is going on in the world hasn’t changed.”

In Australia, there has been controversy about whether to allow Buzzfeed, which often pulls domestic audiences of more than 1.5m users, into the news rankings with the Interactive Advertising Bureau ruling that it should not be classified as an official news site here.

Nic Christensen 


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