Sep 8, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: Ben Smith's new book dishes on clickbait culture

Mike Allen
Cover: Penguin Press

Ben Smith, former editor of BuzzFeed News, will be out May 2 with "Traffic," a history of clickbait culture, and its consequences for democracy — the "origin story of the Age of Disinformation."

  • "I was surprised at all the things we hadn't seen coming — the forces we hadn't realized we were playing with, the illusion that we had control over them," Ben told me.

Smith, 45, is a mischievous online pioneer who started blogging back in '04, and was a big catch when we started Politico in '07.

  • His big theme: the way social media threatened — and changed — politics, society and institutions.
  • Smith told me he wrote most of the book when he was still at The New York Times, writing only one column a week.

The cast of characters includes Arianna Huffington, Matt Drudge, Ben Shapiro, Mark Zuckerberg, Bob Iger, and frenemies Nick Denton and Jonah Peretti.

  • Ben got the idea from Michael Wolff. "[W]hen I was thinking last year about writing a book, I asked him how to do it," Ben wrote in a Times column last year. "He told me, You start with a blank piece of paper, and on the top, you write the amount of money you want."

What's next: Ben, who owned the Sunday-night buzz as the NYT's "The Media Equation" columnist, returns in that time slot with a weekly media newsletter when Semafor — the new global news organization he's co-founding with Justin Smith — launches in October.

More on the book.

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