Breitbart News struggles as readership drops by half

Steve Bannon in meeting

Screengrab via MSNBC/YouTube

The site’s problems are both ideological and technological.

Right-wing news site Breitbart News appears to be struggling, according to a new report by data analytics firm comScore.

In October, the website boasted 15 million unique visitors, a number that dropped by half to 7.8 million by February—the site’s lowest traffic count since February 2015, reports Politico, four months before President Donald Trump announced his candidacy.

Conservative pundits and media analysts speculate that there are several combined reasons why Breitbart has seen its readership fall so dramatically in recent months, some ideological and some technological.

Ben Shapiro, the former Breitbart editor who is now the editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, pointed to Breitbart’s former executive Steve Bannon’s troubles with Trump as having left the website at a crossroads.

Bannon had helped found and lead Breitbart News before serving as Trump’s campaign chairman and then his White House chief strategist. This, of course, boosted Breitbart’s popularity and pro-Trump following. Bannon abruptly left the administration in August and returned to the news organization. When Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury exposed Bannon’s harsh criticism of the president in January, however, Breitbart’s Trump loyalists kicked him from the site’s board.

“They hitched their wagon to Trump, but more importantly, they hitched their wagon to Bannon,” Shapiro told Politico. “And when Bannon left, what was the character of the site going to be? That was always a serious question.”

Breitbart’s dip in traffic since January can also be contributed to Facebook’s war on fake news. On Jan. 12, Facebook announced that it would be changing how NewsFeeds operate to de-prioritize news content, and a report from the Outline showed that the engagement figures for conservative or “alt-right” publications were badly affected.

“Other [conservative] sites are getting killed, other sites are really taking it on the chin,” Shapiro continued.

An advertisers’ boycott brought about by public pressure is also killing the site, with consulting firm MediaRadar counting that in the past year, Breitbart has gone from having 250 advertisers to just 17.

At the same time, Fox News, the biggest network in the conservative media ecosystem, is moving to fill the void. It is seeing big returns for its targeted investment in digital, now boasting between 80 million and 90 million visitors each month.

“A big part of Breitbart’s success was that there was a niche to be filled that Fox News was not able to fill at that point,” Rob Faris, research director at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society told Politico. “The role, the importance of Breitbart is diminished. Fox News is the gorilla in the room.”

David Gilmour

David Gilmour

David Gilmour is a reporter who specializes in national politics, internet culture, and technology. He previously covered civil liberties, crime, and politics for Vice.