Ozy—which it should be noted does have a valuable asset in the form of its CEO, the telegenic former CNN and MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson, as well as a successful events business—has gained something of a reputation in the media space of puffing up its numbers, which a 2017 BuzzFeed article
noted was a result of purchasing low-quality traffic from questionable sources.
(Smith, a former BuzzFeed
editor in chief who still holds a stake in the company, had to put a significant disclosure in the piece, which was kind of fascinating to see, as it revealed that BuzzFeed had considered acquiring Ozy! But it felt like, even with the disclosure listed, Smith was trying to do right by his readers. In that spirit, I will briefly disclose that I was interviewed once by Ozy
about a Tedium piece; Nick Fouriezos, the guy who interviewed me, made a great point
about the people who have worked for Ozy over the years.)
On the puffery angle, Smith laid out the claims of a former editor in his story:
The site generated some buzz, and Mr. Watson said it had the traffic to match. In a 2019 news release, the company said it had 50 million monthly unique users.
Eugene Robinson, an early Ozy hire whose title was editor-at-large, said that, after he heard Mr. Watson boast of the company’s traffic numbers sometime around 2015, he thought they “seemed high” and started comparing the claims to public sources of audience data. Mr. Robinson, who said in an interview that he was fired earlier this year, concluded that the site was a “Potemkin village.”
As Smith notes, some of the claims that Ozy makes seem a bit off—if the company has 20 million newsletter subscribers, that would put its newsletter apparatus in the territory of The New York Times or The Washington Post, or even slightly above those two titles. Plus, there’s the claim that Rao tried to mislead Goldman Sachs because of mental health issues.