Online, Everything Is Alternative Media


Steve Bannon, Breitbart’s former chairman, watching offstage as Donald J. Trump addressed a rally in New Hampshire last month. Mr. Bannon became the campaign chief in August.

Breitbart, the website at the center of the self-described alternative online media, is planning to expand in the United States and abroad. The site, whose former chairman became the chief executive of Donald J. Trump’s campaign in August, has been emboldened by the victory of its candidate.

Breitbart was always bullish on Mr. Trump’s chances, but the site seems far more certain of something else, as illustrated by a less visible story it published on election night, declaring a different sort of victory: “Breitbart Beats CNN, HuffPo for Total Facebook Engagements for Election Content.”

It was a type of story the site publishes regularly. In August: “Breitbart Jumps to #11 on Facebook for Overall Engagement.” In June: “Breitbart Ranked #1 in the World for Political Social Media; Beats HuffPo by 2 Million.” Late last year: “Breitbart News #6 for Most Comments Among English Facebook Publishers Globally.”

These stories were self-promotional. But the rankings, released on a monthly basis by a company called NewsWhip, which measures activity on social networks, represented a brutal leveling. They were unelaborated lists that ranked outlets in terms that were difficult to dispute — total shares, likes and comments.

A sample ranking of the most-shared sites on Facebook from January had Breitbart at No. 14, just behind ABC and The Washington Post, but ahead of Bleacher Report, Comicbook.com, Yahoo and The Hill. The month before, the site ranked between the BBC and The Guardian, just behind The New York Times, which was at No. 7.

These told, narrowly, the story of reach on a new platform — one that the news industry was still coming to terms with as it redefined the terms of consumption. At the same time, they signaled much broader changes: On social platforms, all media had become marginal; elsewhere, much of the media was in structural collapse.

Growing distribution systems belonged to technology companies and their users. Publishers had become mere guests, their own distribution systems, like printed newspapers, stagnant or shrinking. So a news organization’s ranking in that online world — one in which the importance of legacy was diminished — meant something.

Faith in the importance of social metrics was a common trait among pro-Trump media, and for obvious reasons. They were clear indicators of support, participation and success, though exposed to no methodology. They were relative to other media and, by proxy, to politics.

The pro-Trump media understood that it was an insurgent force in a conversation conducted on social media on an unprecedented scale. It understood that its success could be measured by the extent to which it contributed to the assembled millions carrying out their political reading, watching, sharing, commenting and arguing among family and friends. David Bozell, president of ForAmerica, a conservative nonprofit group that operates a large Facebook news page, boasted of its social media prowess: “Because of our success, we know there are real voters delivering real-time political activism every day on these platforms. The press and the political class, at their own peril, ignored the signs, which is why so many got President-elect Trump’s victory wrong.”

In an interview in June, Mr. Bozell spoke more strategically: “We want people to come to our website, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s Marketing 101: Go to where people are at.”

Herrman, J. (2016, novembe 10). Media. Opgeroepen op november 15, 2016, van The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/11/business/media/online-everything-is-alternative-media.html

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