The most interesting thing about BuzzFeed Fresh is what it doesn't have

All carrot, all the time.

Buzzfeed has launched Fre.sh, a microsite which shows "the fastest rising stories from the best sites on web". It's a neat little site, and could well make it on the home pages of a lot of people: 50 stories are listed, with just the headline and a little icon showing the source. The rank is determined by how fast the story is spreading, so the link at the top is the fastest rising story; and the size of the text reflects how much traffic it's getting.

So at a glance you can tell that Salon's story about being "a liberal mole at Fox News" is the fastest rising story, although the Mail's write-up of the Chinese baby being flushed away is getting significantly more traffic:

But that's not the most interesting thing about the site. Because rather than looking at what it has, look at what it doesn't have: a single advert. Instead, as best I can tell, the business case for Fre.sh is contained in a little line at the bottom:

Hey publishers! To add your site to Fre.sh, join the BuzzFeed Network.

That may change over time; the project is clearly marked as being from Buzzfeed Labs, so it's a release-fast-and-iterate job. But the Buzzfeed Network is the site's most under-discussed weapon, and as it stands, Fre.sh is a massive carrot being waved under the noses of any publisher which has yet to sign up.

The deal Buzzfeed offers publishers is that if they sign up as a partner, Buzzfeed will link to their stories from the front page (under "hot on the web" – though curiously, the "hot" stories aren't the same as the "fresh" ones) and in a few of the main content slots. What Buzzfeed gets in return is tracking information from the partners. It's a win-win! The partners get loads of lovely traffic, and Buzzfeed gets the thing that any web-native company craves more than anything else – data.

So much data, in fact, that they can now tell their partners which of their stories are rising fastest – something that, I'd imagine, at least some of the partners can't do themselves. Buzzfeed now knows how many of its readers also click around the Daily Mail, and how many of them get their "real" news from the Guardian.

All that data pays back back to the site's native advertising model. That's the part of Buzzfeed which all the ink has been spilled over: the sponsored posts engineered for "viral lift" and ideally indistinguishable from the site's normal content

Because sure, advertisers will pay to speak to what they think of as Buzzfeed's audience; but they'll pay a lot more when they realise that they're speaking to a significant chunk of the NYT's readers, without even having to pay the NYT's rates. And the more partners Buzzfeed has, the more they can eat other organisations' lunches without them even knowing.

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Getty.
Show Hide image

Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.