SOCIAL STAR-MAKER

How DramaAlert Became the TMZ of YouTube

A 34-year-old in New York has become the Harvey Levin of teens on YouTube, raking in what many believe to be millions, but not without controversy for rants on Twitter.

No social platform is more consumed by drama than YouTube and for fans looking to keep up with every last Logan Paul cry for help, there’s only one destination: DramaAlert.  

Since launching in 2014, DramaAlert has become the premier source of breaking news on YouTubers, social-media stars, and influencers. The channel has racked up well over a half-billion views and more than 3.2 million subscribers in the process.

DramaAlert covers the type of news that teens and massive corners of the internet seek out voraciously—but that’s frequently ignored by the mainstream media.

Although the following sentence is gibberish to many, if you’re looking for up-to-the-minute info on who’s in or out of Jake Paul’s squad, are confused about who started the feud between Bhad Bhabie and Woahhvicky, or are one of RiceGum’s nearly 10 million fans and are desperate to know who he’s dating, DramaAlert is for you.

The channel is solely owned and hosted by 34-year-old Daniel Keem, better known on the web as Keemstar. On an almost daily basis, Keem delivers the news in 10-minute broadcasts posted to YouTube.

Each video opens with Keem sitting at a desk behind his laptop, a large boom mic in front of his face, crooning, “Let’s get riiiiiight into the news.” He then breaks down the top stories of the day in short segments, often including exclusive interviews with those involved.

Each video generates millions of views.

***

Daniel Keem is not a traditional media entrepreneur or someone who you’d imagine could speak authoritatively to millions of teenagers on YouTube.

He’s in his mid-thirties, lives far away from Los Angeles in a modest home in upstate New York, and maintains a relatively low-key life offline. He has a girlfriend and a young daughter named Mia. According to a friend, Keem worked at a law office and deejayed on the side before striking it big on YouTube.

With the restraint he maintains in his daily live, he makes up for in his outlandish and brash personality online.

Keem has always been an avid and outspoken gamer, and got his start on YouTube in 2009 after he became semi-well-known for a video his friend uploaded of him trash-talking and trolling fellow players in Halo 3.

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The video reached over 100,000 views, a minor hit, and Keem was asked to join a YouTube clique of gamers called [email protected] (The Federation of Asshole Gamers), who specifically produced Halo trolling videos.

The anti-gay slur used as its name, Keem explained, comes from gaming culture. “Every online game you played back then people called you a FAG, so we called ourselves [email protected], the Federation of Asshole Gamers. And when we got called fags in online games we would respond, ‘YEP.’”

As he began to make a bigger name for himself in the gaming community on YouTube under the name DJKeemstar, he was also becoming a prolific tweeter. Relishing in the frequent squabbles in the gaming community on YouTube, Keem began retweeting and calling attention to the feuds with the hashtag #DramaAlert.  

In 2014, Keem recognized that no single person was curating the internet’s drama of the day, fact-checking it, and packaging it in an easily digestible format. He decided to do it himself. Keem began posting videos about the drama going down online, and DramaAlert, the channel, was born.

“I started this whole YouTube thing about gaming, then the whole DramaAlert meme turned into a goddamn multi million dollar business,” he said recently on Twitter.

DramaAlert struck at just the right moment when YouTubers and influencers were beginning to cement their place in popular culture, but were—even more so than now—largely ignored by the mainstream press.

To get their YouTube news, most teens rely on a shoddy network of YouTuber news aggregator accounts on Instagram, obscure sites run by fellow teens, or so-called “stan” accounts that obsessively share unverified updates about specific stars.

For a lot of young people, there exists a massive gulf between the up-to-the-minute news about creators that they crave and the news they can find online.

Some mainstream media brands have clunkily tried to cater to these YouTube-obsessed youths by launching “teen” verticals or channels dedicated to covering internet celebs, but the content is often written by people who don’t really understand the internet, and certainly don’t have the inside scoop.

Keem always has the inside scoop, most notably because he’s an integral part of the community he reports on. He is a YouTuber talking about YouTube news in videos distributed on YouTube.

He has an encyclopedic knowledge of YouTube culture and can spot trends and pluck out burgeoning stars months or years before they hit the mainstream. He refuses to go through stars’ publicists or managers, instead choosing to text, call, or DM YouTubers directly. He has long running personal relationships with some of YouTube’s biggest creators.

In true YouTube fashion, he has also intrinsically tied the DramaAlert brand with his personality and contributes to the broader YouTube culture he covers by creating and sharing memes. He released his own parody rap video titled “Dollar in the Woods” in October that is nearing 7 million views.

***

What started as a one-man shop has transformed into a ’round-the-clock, 24/7 news network. Keem now has a staff that fluctuates between five and 10 assistants, all working remotely, who scour the web for internet drama and report out the stories that appear on his show.

He scouts talent from social media. Most of the people he hires are young with no background in journalism.

They pull together news stories and pitch ideas to Keem via group chat and have regular check-in calls, or “news meetings,” where they finalize ideas for each DramaAlert episode.

Keem is notoriously secretive about DramaAlert’s editorial operations, but DramaAlert’s former Managing Editor Alvin Sheldon said that Keem was brilliant at story selection and news judgment. Sheldon said Keem has an uncanny ability to determine what will have viral potential.

Sheldon also said that part of the reason he thinks DramaAlert is so successful is Keem’s refusal to publish stories based solely on hearsay or speculation. Fans know that what runs on DramaAlert is held to some modicum of editorial standards, and so they trust him.

“We only reported on factual things that happened,” Sheldon said. “We only did stories that were fact-checked and done properly. Keem would go ahead and get the screenshots, do the interview, and record the video. He edits it all himself. He’s a very good editor.”

Sheldon said that DramaAlert is also “always factually correct.”

“There’s a lot of ‘fake news’ things going on. DramaAlert is always factually correct. It’s probably more reliable than a lot of news outlets,” he said.

Despite its rapidly growing dedicated audience, Keem doesn’t seem to have any plans to pivot into mainstream news. Instead, he continues to build his empire where his audience lives: on YouTube.

“Keem is the best businessman I’ve ever met,” said Sheldon. “He knows how to make something interesting, he knows how to do things at the right time, he’s just very, very good at managing his own business.”

As drama continues to consume every corner of the internet, DramaAlert’s business has been very, very good. Fellow YouTubers speaking to The Daily Beast estimate that Keem is raking in millions of dollars based on their experience with the ad platform.

Keem regularly boasts about the money he makes and is known to give away thousands of dollars on a whim. On a recent episode of his podcast, he insisted it’s not about the money, but  about creating something that’s beloved by his audience.

***

Like any online influencer, Keem is not without his detractors. Several top YouTubers who were approached for this article refused to speak on the record about Keem for fear of inciting his wrath. He has a notoriously volatile temper and regularly gets in dust-ups online.

While his fans find his lack of filter endearing, other YouTubers said that they consider him a bully. In May 2016, YouTuber idubbbz released a takedown video of Keem in which he claimed that Keem uses DramaAlert to promote his friends and punish his enemies.

He said that Keem threatens YouTubers who don’t come on his show with negative spin on stories and suggests that YouTubers who don’t respond to his requests for comment have something to hide.

Keem responded to these allegations on Twitter saying he has no problem booking guests or landing exclusive interviews. He said he’s not mad at the takedown idubbbz did on him because he finds it entertaining.

“The only time some big YouTuber wants to come on DramaAlert is to clear their name because they’re in the right. The only time a small YouTuber wants to come on is because they’re about to get a lot of exposure,” he said. “My objective isn’t, ‘Go destroy people’s life on DramaAlert.’ I don’t use my platform that way. I try to keep my show fair and balanced, but on Twitter, I’m going to give my opinion.”

Keem also understands the drama cycle because he has sparked many controversies of his own over the years.

“This dude is… a very rash decision maker and he’ll just say something before he even thinks about it. He has no filter, he’ll just do it,” said Idubbbz. “This has resulted in countless examples of him saying really regrettable shit.”

Keem’s most notorious regrettable comment took place during an incident that’s repeated frequently by detractors.

In 2008, after getting into a fight with a moderator named Alex on Battlecam.com in which he exchanged several racist slurs, Keem hopped on a livestream and encouraged everyone on the stream to type “Alex is a stupid n---er” in the chat window.

He has since apologized for the comments, but also paid for a DNA test to prove that he is actually 9 percent black and so, he claims, has a right to use the word.

Keem also faced backlash in January 2016 after telling a YouTuber with terminal cancer named TotalBiscuit that he couldn’t wait to report on his death. Again, he issued an apology saying that he regretted the comments.

Keem says that these missteps shouldn’t preclude him from covering other YouTubers’ mistakes and controversies online.

“I’ll call somebody out for doing something wrong on YouTube, and someone will say, ‘But Keemstar, five years ago on a stream you did the same exact thing,’” he said on a recent episode of his podcast. “Well guess what? I was wrong then! What I did was fucking wrong. Just because I made the same mistake years ago, doesn’t mean I’ve lost the right to call people out.”

The two people he calls out most frequently are Jake and Logan Paul.

The Paul brothers have an uncanny ability to manufacture drama. Some fans have joked that they’re singlehandedly keeping DramaAlert in business.

“I used to think that Jake Paul was ruining YouTube. I used to think that Jake Paul needed to be stopped. But when I think about this, looking back from the summer till now, Jake Paul is the greatest thing that’s happened to YouTube in 2017 because he’s always doing something or saying something that’s fucking ridiculous or getting himself in trouble,” Keem said in a video posted to Twitter in December. “I mean literally every day there is something to talk about with Jake Paul. This story never ends. It never fucking ends.”

“Jake’s erratic, crazy behavior has rubbed off on other YouTubers, and now I see other YouTubers being extremely cringy and getting themselves in trouble,” Keem said.

“This fucker has breeded [sic] a whole new generation of YouTubers, whose foundation is within YouTube drama. So at the end of the day, as I look at the overall picture, I realize it would be a great time to invest in DramaAlert stock, because I think we’re just getting started.”

***

Yet covering this drama day in and day out has undoubtedly taken a toll on Keem. After Logan Paul uploaded a video of a dead body to his channel in late December, Keem questioned whether he was becoming numb to how twisted the world of YouTube influencers can be.

Keem said on his podcast that he often feels like he’s living in an inescapable bubble where bad behavior is becoming the norm and he’s disgusted by exactly how unaware many parents are of what their children consume online.  

Keem wants a better world filled with more high-quality content and influencers who parents would be proud of, but he lives in and perpetuates the type of drama-ridden culture that has come to dominate YouTube.

The only way that landscape will shift, Keem says, is if Jake and Logan Paul and their ilk become uncool—or if parents seize control.

“You cannot—and I know this firsthand—you can’t destroy Jake Paul and you can’t destroy Logan Paul,” he said. “And the No. 1 reason why you can’t destroy them is because of their children fan base. Logan Paul and Jake Paul, to kids, are cool. The only thing that can take down Jake Paul and Logan Paul are parents and, quite frankly, we have a huge problem all around the world with parents not giving a fuck what their kids are watching online.”

Yet many of those same young fans are addicted to watching Keem, a fact he says disturbs him.

“So many people have said, ‘Keemstar, you have 12-year-olds watching you,’” Keem said on his podcast. “Well, they shouldn’t! I don’t want them watching me. I swear in every single one of my videos, I don’t make content for kids, I’ve never made content for kids.”

Yet kids continue to eat it up.

YouTube stars, Instagrammers, and social-media influencers have long eclipsed traditional celebrities in importance to millennials and Gen Z. According to a recent survey by Variety, “U.S. teenagers are more enamored with YouTube stars than they are the biggest celebrities in film, TV, and music.” DramaAlert is one of the few places on the internet kids can get their news fix.

YouTube is built on the cults of personality that surround its biggest stars and Keem knows how to draw in and keep an audience.

“Attention is the currency of the future. It is the only currency,” Keem said on his podcast. “Don’t think about money, don’t think about, you know anything else, sponsorships, anything like that. It’s attention.”