The origin story of the Age of Disinformation: the candid inside tale of two online media rivals, Jonah Peretti of HuffPost and BuzzFeed and Nick Denton of Gawker Media, whose delirious pursuit of attention at scale helped release the dark forces that would overtake the internet and American society.
Smith attempts to tell the entire 21st-century story of online media, and quite a bit of that story ends up in the book. Smith’s particularly good when he close-reads a particular publication in its ephemeral context ... Smith identifies what felt new about the site’s merging of intersectional identity with journalism, and shrewdly points out how it paved the way for the mainstreaming of new ways of thinking about feminism—and, not incidentally, laid the groundwork for #MeToo ... It’s a shame that Smith’s book, so focused on its two mad scientists turned CEOs, spends so little time really digging into what it was like for the writers and—perhaps more importantly—the readers of that era.
Engrossing and suspenseful ... Picaresque ... Even as Smith refuses to canonize his protagonists, Nick Denton (the founder of Gawker Media) and Jonah Peretti (the co-founder of HuffPost and BuzzFeed), they occasionally alight on the odd eureka moment that a more earnest writer could have styled as world-changing. Sometimes Smith even becomes that earnest write ... Moral seriousness is what lifts Traffic above other accounts of adventures in start-up land.
There is lots of delusion in this book. There is also a little bit of rivalry. But I have to be honest. I do not think there are any geniuses ... The rivalry, and the intensity of feeling that spawned both it and the anonymous letter to the Awl, never really comes alive on the page. Maybe this is a function of Smith’s puree-smooth business prose, or of the overfamiliarity of the stories Traffic tells ... Of the many delusions in the book, the grandest is the idea that digital publishers could build sustainable businesses by chasing immense audiences with free content ... It’s hard not to feel like Traffic is making an inadvertent but compelling case that Gawker and BuzzFeed were, in the grand scheme of things, not particularly important. Smith acknowledges this possibility toward the end.