Today’s Pew Research Center study on political polarization and its effect on media consumption yielded one fairly predictable top line. Liberals rely on several different outlets for information, but never Fox News. Conservatives, on the other hand, overwhelmingly trust Fox more than any other source.
But there was one takeaway that drew the biggest reaction from a number of journalists online. BuzzFeed, the viral juggernaut that’s made an ambitious investment in its news division in recent years, appears to have a trust problem.
According to Pew’s findings, only 2 percent of respondents overall said they trust BuzzFeed, compared with 8 percent who said they distrust the site. Among respondents who had heard of BuzzFeed, 7 percent said they trusted it while 25 percent said they did not. Sixty-eight percent of respondents who were familiar with BuzzFeed said they neither trusted nor distrusted the site.
That latter category was relatively small, a point that BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith emphasized in an email to TPM.
“Most of the great news organizations have been around for decades, and trust is something you earn over time,” Smith said in his email. “Our organization is new, our news operation is even newer, and it’s early days for us. The more people know BuzzFeed News, especially young people who are make up a small share of these surveys, the more they trust us.”
Only 31 percent of respondents in the survey said they had heard of BuzzFeed, miles behind institutions like CNN and the New York Times. For some points of reference, 66 percent said they had heard of the Huffington Post, which was founded in 2005, while 32 percent said they had heard of Politico, which launched in 2007.
Amy Mitchell, the lead author of the Pew report, told TPM in an email that point was significant.
“In the case of BuzzFeed, I definitely think it’s important to note that only 31% of our respondents had heard of the outlet,” Mitchell said. “That may be surprising to many journalists. It’s true that the difference between those who trust it (8%) and those who distrust it (2%) is statistically significant.”
BuzzFeed has been around since 2006, but its focus on enterprise reporting is still relatively new. Smith surprised many in the media world when he bolted from Politico in 2011 to bring some journalistic heft to a site that’s generated impressive traffic numbers thanks in large part to aggregation and algorithms.
But while the BuzzFeed’s news operation may still be in its infancy, the site has faced challenges that may also contribute to its relatively poor showing in the Pew survey.
Gawker’s J.K. Trotter reported in August that BuzzFeed had deleted more than 4,000 posts, some of which included text that had been lifted from other outlets. A spokesperson for BuzzFeed said those scrubbed posts failed to meet the site’s new “editorial standards.”
That revelation came on the heels of BuzzFeed’s decision to fire viral politics editor Benny Johnson, one of the site’s stars, for serial plagiarism.
One thing that can be said for BuzzFeed: it appears to unite liberals and conservatives. It was the only outlet tested in the survey to be more distrusted than trusted no matter where respondents fell on the ideological spectrum.
Below is Pew’s chart: