February 28, 2017 Last Updated 12:08 pm

Keep ’em angry: the way Breitbart News (and Murdoch) work is textbook web theory

Building community is the goal of any digital media property, something that is hard when the goal is objective news coverage, easier when agenda promotion is the priority

This website has said many times that it has the secret to success in digital media: build community. Next, how do you build community? OK, that’s the hard part, one where there is not one single answer.

In other words, having “the solution” does no one any good except as a sort of vague blueprint for digital media management.

But reading this story on the NY Post’s website about “Gary from Chicago” I realized that it fits into what this topic is all about.

Yaron Steinbuch manages to take a story from Chicago’s ABC7 and turn it on its head. In ABC7’s article, Gary’s story is one of redemption and love. He served 20+ years in prison for felony convictions, then found religion and love, and was in LA with his fiancee Vicky when he was part of Jimmy Kimmel’s stunt during the Oscars. How nice.

But in the NYPost’s telling, Gary is “an ex-con who served 22 years for attempted rape.”

Both are true, but the two stories really tell two different stories, don’t they?

The Murdoch press, like Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News, know how to keep its readers angry. Like a Donald Trump rally which spontaneously breaks into “lock her up” (the CPAC meeting even did that during the president’s talk there last week), anger builds community and brand loyalty.

But it is hard to keep up the anger, and Murdoch’s tabloid, even his WSJ, cannot seem to keep enough readers and advertisers to stay profitable. In fact, EBITDA is down 22 percent so far this year, and though profitable from an EBITDA perspective, the newspaper unit is probably in the red when admin costs are added back in.

But Breitbart and other websites, such as InfoWars, are able to keep up the anger and hate. It is helped out by the fact that there are no limits to what it might publish, or what its readers are allowed to say in the comment threads. In fact, often the comment threads are the real reason for the story. For instance, a story on the Hillary Clinton campaign may lead the site and be as bland as anything seen on a newspaper site, but the real reason for the story is to let readers vent and spread the latest conspiracy rumor.

I actually admire how Breitbart News does its thing… to a certain extent.

For instance, a common bogeyman is Hungarian-American philanthropist George Soros whose hand is seen behind anything the right disapproves of. A headline with his name is bound to get readers riled up.

This story, seen at top-right, already has hundreds of comments, though it only has just been posted. The story also includes an auto-play video that talks about Kellogg’s pulling its ads from Breitbart, and encourages a boycott of the cereal ban. In other words, conspiracies are everywhere you look, and the only website you can trust is Breitbart.

It’s a great way to build community, and many news outlets are discovering that the anger on the left at the new Trump administration is helping sell subscriptions, drive viewership, too. The problem, of course, is that news is variable. Unlike a site dedicated to a political agenda, a news site can’t keep up the theme of anger when there are all sorts of news stories that need to be covered.

Still, there are subtle ways some news organizations are discovering to work the same game. Fact-checking features, constant stories about false claims, and Trump himself, are being used in ways not really so different than what Breitbart or the Murdoch press does things.

The other way, one few news organizations seem eager to experiment with, is to build new brands around their columnists. The NYT, for instance, wants all its marketing to promote the main NYT brand, not be distracted by ancillary brands. I think this is a mistake, but at least the NYT is consistent.

I’m not recommending adopting the Breitbart-Murdoch way of publishing, far from it. But one has to understand their publishing model, and understand how it has built in advantages on the web. If we don’t, we may end up with only Breitbarts to read.

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