Does The Washington Post really have a bigger audience than BuzzFeed? Probably not.
The Washington Post has lately taken to trumpeting its increasing traffic figures on a semi-regular basis. In November 2015, when it squeaked by The New York Times in unique visitors, it published a memo from Digital Managing Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz touting the paper's growing audience and flagging some of its most popular content.
The announcement was greeted with interest by media types given the longstanding competition between The New York Times and The Washington Post for the somewhat ambiguous distinction of "America's newspaper of record." Much to the chagrin of Times staffers, the Post published a house ad giving itself that honor and prompted a flurry of press about The Post's impressive digital growth in the Jeff Bezos era.
Now comes this eye-popping announcement from the Post: Not only did the paper maintain its lead over The New York Times in February, it's even surpassed Web giant BuzzFeed in terms of total pageviews. Here's an excerpt from The Washington Post's announcement:
Last month The Washington Post had 890 million page views, exceeding all but one major competitor. The numbers, provided by comScore, also underscore The Post’s commitment to provide engaging experiences across all platforms, with mobile and desktop visitors seeing big increases year over year (80% and 26%, respectively). More than 73 million digital readers visited The Post and spent almost 17 minutes across the site and apps.
But the claim that The Washington Post has leapfrogged BuzzFeed, attributed to comScore data, is somewhat deceptive. BuzzFeed counts itself among a group of national publications — The Washington Post included — that publish much of their content on social networks like Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr. As BuzzFeed publisher Dao Nguyen recently noted, modern publishers must take into account views on distributed platforms if they want to establish a reasonable barometer of their total audiences:
Even two years ago, when we all lived in a simpler media landscape, we believed there was no "one metric to rule them all." Today that is even more true. To measure the overall reach of the company, we look at a combination of metrics that are available across platforms.
According to Nguyen, BuzzFeed raked in billions of views for all of its content in January when accounting for use of its various distributed channels. She said the company's February comScore metric of 80 million unique views actually represented "less than one-fifth" of its actual global reach.
So has The Washington Post really surpassed BuzzFeed in terms of total audience? It's impossible to tell by looking at the comScore numbers the paper provides. But given that BuzzFeed has continually invested in distributed content since 2014, it's hard to imagine The Washington Post has completely overtaken its (other) New York-based competitor.