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Buzzfeed breaks RNC ad deal: Could it affect Trump's campaign?

The news site has cancelled an advertising deal with the Republican National Committee saying that running ads for Donald Trump's campaign would be 'hazardous to our health.'

Brendan McDermid/Reuters/File
Buzzfeed employees at work at the company's headquarters in New York.

BuzzFeed has cancelled an advertising deal with the Republican National Committee (RNC) because of the "tone and substance" of Donald Trump's campaign rhetoric, announced BuzzFeed chief executive officer Jonah Peretti in an internal email to employees on Monday. 

The agreement, which was said to be worth $1.3 million, was made in April, and would have allowed the RNC to sponsor editorial content promoting Mr. Trump's presidential ambitions. 

However, as Mr. Peretti wrote in his memo to employees, the deal was called off Monday because he believed that Trump's campaign is "directly opposed to the freedoms of our employees in the United States and around the world." Peretti cited as an example Trump's proposed ban on international travel for Muslims, "which would make it impossible for our employees to do their jobs."

The deal was a result of BuzzFeed's October announcement that the media organization would allow 2016 presidential hopefuls to purchase native advertising on its website. The site experimented with this concept in 2012, when it published several videos sponsored by Obama for America, including one titled "What Mitt Romney's 'Binders Full of Women' Says About His Views."

"We don't need to and do not expect to agree with the positions or values of all our advertisers," Peretti explained in his internal email. "However.... We don't run cigarette ads because they are hazardous to our health, and we won't accept Trump ads for the exact same reason."

A spokesman for the RNC said in a statement that advertising space had been reserved on many platforms, but that the RNC "never intended to use BuzzFeed." 

Kelly McBride, vice president of The Poynter Institute and its media ethicist, writes that she believes BuzzFeed's decision to cancel the deal will "definitely" affect the way BuzzFeed is perceived by readers, "but only for Trump supporters, who will now distrust BuzzFeed's coverage."

Definitive statistics aren't available on the 2016 presidential preferences of BuzzFeed readers. However, a Pew study ranking media organizations based on the political leanings of their readers placed BuzzFeed on the liberal side of the spectrum, between MSNBC and NPR. 

The deal could have provided Trump with a chance to reach a younger audience at a time when his polling numbers among Americans under 30 are among the lowest for any presidential candidate in decades. Fifty percent of BuzzFeed's 200+ million unique visitors are between the ages of 18 and 34. 

However, Morley Winograd, co-author of "Millennial Momentum: How A New Generation Is Remaking America," finds it unlikely that native political advertising on BuzzFeed could have improved Trump's ratings among young people. He says that the popular website does more to reflect Millennials' political leanings than influence them. 

"It's not BuzzFeed affecting Millennial beliefs, it's Millennial beliefs affecting BuzzFeed," Mr. Winograd explained in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor, adding, "There's nothing in the Trump campaign that will appeal to Millennials." 

Although the RNC can no longer purchase sponsored content from BuzzFeed, the editorial side of the news organization will continue its regular coverage of Trump and the 2016 election, said BuzzFeed editor in chief Ben Smith. 

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