Vivek Ramaswamy is right: conservatives need to reclaim the US media

Vivek Ramaswamy is an activist investor in Buzzfeed
Vivek Ramaswamy is an activist investor in Buzzfeed - Jose Luis Magana

While the hit HBO show Succession is done, the drama roiling the very-real media landscape is far from over – and a wealthy conservative is trying to show Jeff Bezos that he’s not the only player in town.

This time, instead of Waystar Royco facing a potentially hostile new owner, it’s now Buzzfeed News with a big new stakeholder: Vivek Ramaswamy, former presidential candidate and billionaire investor, who wants to shake the company up with a series of interesting ideas.

To many, it came as a shock to learn that the Left-leaning blogging site Buzzfeed still existed – let alone that a $3 million investment doesn’t even amount to 9 per cent of the company, but Ramaswamy addressed that head on in his letter to its board of directors, leading off his 7-page memo by simply stating: “BuzzFeed has lost its way.”

The company has ebbed and flowed over the years, starting off as a blog with cat-themed listicles to publishing the anti-Trump dossier from Christopher Steele in its entirety to winning a Pulitzer in 2021 for its sensational reporting on China’s mass detention of its Muslim Uyghur population.

But times have become tough. Buzzfeed shuttered its Pulitzer-winning Buzzfeed News division in 2023 to prioritise the sister-site Huffington Post, while allowing the Buzzfeed home page to continue churning out content like “Bake A Cake And I’ll Tell You Which ‘Strawberry Shortcake’ Aesthetic Is Yours!” and “21 Excruciatingly Entitled People Whose Outright Selfishness Will Make You Feel Sick To Your Stomach”.

Ramaswamy has a three-pronged solution for the ailing website: slash staff, prioritise its successful YouTube expansion over listicles, and make Buzzfeed a bold and distinctive brand. The latter is all but certain to never happen, given that he wants the outlet to “distinguish yourself from competitors by openly admitting your past journalistic failures and redefine BuzzFeed’s brand around the pursuit of truth.”

In the short term, Ramaswamy’s Buzzfeed stake has proven to be great news for the company, which saw its stock surge to around 3 dollars per share following the news. In the long term, it’s hard to see his vision for the company panning out, in part because it would require a full-blown repudiation of what Buzzfeed is.

The former presidential candidate correctly notes a series of stories broken by Buzzfeed that turned out to age worse than, well, Buzzfeed. “New” media outlets aren’t exactly in the self-policing business: look no further than the New York Times’ erroneous coverage of a hospital bombing in Gaza Strip, repeating claims from the terrorist group Hamas that the IDF were responsible, while later admitting errors in “presentation”.

While Ramaswamy concedes that the optics of a former Republican presidential candidate coming in and bossing Buzzfeed around aren’t great, his business know-how is strong enough to give him a good hearing. In making the case for ideological diversity, he floats a wide variety of content creators, many of whom are free agents due to conflicts with their previous employers. “Go for talents across the political and cultural spectrum,” he wrote. “Be bold. Don’t be afraid to challenge your audiences. From Candace Owens to Destiny, Tucker Carlson to Bill Maher, Aaron Rodgers to Charles Barkley, no talent should be off-limits to platform, hire, or acqui-hire.”

This agenda of mass layoffs and pivot to YouTube is ambitious, to be sure. Unfortunately for Ramaswamy, several of the factors that caused Buzzfeed News to shutter remain firmly in place. In announcing its closure last year, Buzzfeed blamed “a pandemic, a fading SPAC market that yielded less capital, a tech recession, a tough economy, a declining stock market, a decelerating digital advertising market and ongoing audience and platform shifts.”

The symbolic power of Ramaswamy’s intervention is noteworthy, even if this particular venture doesn’t work out. Conservatives have found their voices increasingly marginalised in mainstream media organisations, with moderate voices (such as Uri Berliner at NPR) being no longer tolerated. If Jeff Bezos can take over the Left-leaning Washington Post, why can’t Ramaswamy push an ailing media brand to serve the unheard voices of the silent majority?

If Ramaswamy’s efforts pay off, he may have made Buzzfeed great again. If they fail, would anyone even notice?