Nine reasons why Buzzfeed is a real news source

Under a veil of cat gifs and endless listicles, Buzzfeed has real journalistic potential, and to ignore it would be to overlook what may prove to be a financially viable model for future journalism.

Mumbrella reported yesterday that the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) will be rethinking what online content classifies as ‘news’. Buzzfeed is currently categorised under “search engines, portals, and communities”.

Australian editor Simon Crerar says the site is just as newsworthy as others, and would be the tenth most popular in the category.

“We consider ourselves a news and entertainment company in the same way that NineMSN, news.com.au and the Mail Online have a mix between hard news and entertainment content.”

Buzzfeed began in 2006 as a resource for viral content, built around a model of ‘sharing’. But now it’s making very real efforts to be viewed as a genuine source of quality journalism, hiring the likes of Pulitzer Prize winner Mark Schoofs to head an investigative unit.

Buzzfeed Australia hosted a launch in January with the Walkley Foundation, immediately signaling its intentions to move away from the viral content and towards the news.

IAB’s task is unenviable: to define what does and doesn’t constitute ‘news’. All it takes is a look at today’s Buzzfeed front page to see the issues it will be facing.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.04.02 AM

It features few, if any, traditional ‘news’ stories. Most is light entertainment, and there’s little evidence of the serious journalism they are now endeavoring to create.

One click on the ‘News’ tab reveals a different story.

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 11.04.20 AM

There are very real, serious news stories, without any gifs or pictures of cats. This contrast exemplifies the challenges IAB will face in determining what sites are ‘news’.

If the likes of news.com.au is classified as a ‘news’, then Buzzfeed must also be included in this category.

While critics comment on pointless lists and clickbait headlines, it is undoubtedly a successful model.

The listicles provide the vast majority of revenue for the site, but this is a necessary means to provide genuine and important journalism.

Buzzfeed has found a way to survive financially and still create some journalism.

Whatever you think about their method, Buzzfeed may well have demonstrated a viable model journalism in the future, and could lead to a complete rethink of what constitutes ‘news’ in the meantime.

Advertisements

11 thoughts on “Nine reasons why Buzzfeed is a real news source

  1. Ashleigh McMillan

    The IAB Measurement Council is right to exile Buzzfeed from the list of Australian news sites. I took a serious click around Buzzfeed and couldn’t find any Australian news content. Honestly, none. Listicles about March in May protest signs billed as their ‘big story’? Sure. Things invented in Australia? Wiki could have told me that. But no proper Australian news content produced in an identifiable form. Their BuzzfeedOz twitter feed reflects this – so many kangaroos, so few newsy articles. While I don’t dispute that Buzzfeed is creating some strong journalistic content elsewhere, particularly covering world news and investigative stories, should we really accept that they’re a ‘news source’ in Australia? I’m going to say no. Perhaps they just haven’t publicised their news content well enough, or haven’t put it on the front page in the past five months. But if they want to be recognised as legitimate source of Australian news, they might want to actually start producing some.

    Reply
    1. denhamsadler Post author

      Whilst I agree that Buzzfeed’s Australian news content is scarce at the moment, I still think there is enough there to easily compare with other sites that are arbitrarily included in the ‘news’ category. There are definitely some news stories out there, e.g:

      -http://www.buzzfeed.com/simoncrerar/newspaper-prints-world-is-fukt-on-front-page
      -http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/geoff-shaw-tummy-eggs

      Although these are covered in a very simplistic and juvenile way, they’re still news stories. Perhaps they’re written in a way that connects people that may have otherwise not shown any interest in the issue. Although it could definitely be argued that this is dumbing down journalism in general.

      Because it has so recently launched, I think they are establishing that base of cat gifs and a solid readership before they really push the journalism side, as they have done with Buzzfeed US.

      Basically I think that a lot of what Buzzfeed produces is no less ‘legitimate’ news than many other sites in Australia.

      Reply
  2. Ashleigh Craven

    I love Buzzfeed for the pure fact that it isn’t always serious, hard-hitting news. The fun and quirky side to the website can be just as interesting as the serious stuff! After all, what would differentiate Buzzfeed from its competitors if it didn’t have the unusual “news” we are accustomed to spending hours procrastinating with?

    Reply
  3. likelukjanowbutnot

    While I understand your point, I remain incredibly sceptical of this as a future news model. Is there nothing left for building a rapport with your audience, and maintaining a reputation for relevant and breaking news?
    While they may have a news tab, you yourself point out that the front page remains a warzone of ads, paid for pieces and rubbish.
    Do you really think it is logical that the reader work so hard to find news on a site, especially one that holds a positive reputation only in computer-illiterate, slightly stupid or easily entertained circles?
    I imagine most would rather go to a reputable, recognised news sight rather than put their trust in something like Buzzfeed as a news source.

    Reply
    1. denhamsadler Post author

      I think it’s the difference between being a future news model that is financially viable, and being a future news model that is progressive and beneficial for journalism. I think Buzzfeed’s model is certainly the former, but not necessarily the latter.

      I don’t really think it’s all that hard to find the news, it’s the first big tab up the top, but I understand the issue with Australia’s front page currently being based around the viral content mostly.

      What do we classify as a “reputable, recognised news site” though? It starts to get very tricky when we begin to sort and differentiate sites that all do very similar things, and this is the problem facing the IAB. News.com.au is hardly a reputable source, but surely no-one would argue that it should be in the ‘news’ category.

      I think you’re slightly underestimating the sheer number of people that do seem to enjoy Buzzfeed’s content, and the likelihood that they will also utilise the site for its more newsy content.

      Again, I’m not saying that this is necessarily a positive thing, just that it is a way to financially sustain journalistic content going into the future.

      Thanks for the feedback Jess! xoxo

      Reply
      1. mishellhmm

        I think you have a point. Buzzfeed is unorthodox in its methods, but it is working. When we really think about it, what we classify as “reputable, recognised news site” is largely a relative term. As the times change as we live in the age of fast news and lists, so will our definition our “reputable, recognised news site”. With that, I can only imagine that where we find our news is changing also. On the idea of BuzzfeedOZ not being so great (yet) is that they are taking time to establish themselves, so I agree with you on that as well.

  4. matildaedwards

    I couldn’t agree with this more. As well as using Buzzfeed to see “32 types of toasted cheese sandwich that are better than having a boyfriend” (I wholeheartedly agree and am making my way through the list), the reality is that this is the kind of journalism that engages a 2014 audience. Its mix of light stuff and legitimate – and well written – news is brilliant, hits the demographic square in the face and to be honest I’d take it over a Murdoch paper most days.

    Reply
  5. amandajdc92

    Buzzfeed’s model definitely works and that mean’s they’re doing something right. Getting bogged down by definitional issues comes off as kind of petty.

    I don’t know why the mixture of unrelated content is so problematic. I for one don’t mind my natural disasters with a side of Grumpy Cat at all. Besides, as this guy (http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire/252706/how-much-does-buzzfeed-write-about-cats-anyway/) says, Buzzfeed doesn’t just cover cats. They also cover dogs, squirrels, owls, even llamas.

    I actually have the Buzzfeed app on my phone and always end up scrolling through it at the end of the day. I think it makes great use of user customisation as well. I effectively have a feed that comprises of the things I want to see…even if that’s an odd mix of hard news stories, food porn and listicles like ‘A Definitive Ranking Of The 17 Most Evil Harry Potter Characters’. That’s my news, so simply put, I agree that it’s a legitimate news site. Sure, it’s a little unorthodox now but who’s to say what does and does not constitute as news in an age where we quite literally suffer from information over-consumption.

    Anyway, great post Den. Very clear, concise writing too.

    Reply
  6. denhamsadler Post author

    Thanks Amanda, much appreciated!

    I completely agree that the customisation feature is super useful. That’s the way of the future, as seen with RSS feeds and the likes.

    I think the main issue with the mixture of cutesy lists and more hard-hitting journalistic content is that some may claim this jeopardises the credibility and integrity of the journalism, but I don’t believe this necessarily has to be the case.

    Also agree that the definitional issues are petty. It seems like a bit of a waste of time, and the Buzzfeed editor just wanting to claim the title of the ’10th most popular Australian news site’. But I think it has led to an important debate centred around what constitutes journalism and the news in the 21st century.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
  7. TrumpetMax

    Definitions in journalism are important I think, particularly surrounding online news. Awards and rankings are a couple of superficial things, but I think the issue runs deeper than that. So often with online news content (particularly when viewed from a mobile device) there is insufficient labelling to distinguish between news and opinion. This can be damaging to the public debate if people read a columnist’s views and take them as fact. News, entertainment, cats… whatever, just so long as everything is clearly labeled as such.

    Reply
  8. Pingback: Nine Reasons Why Buzzfeed Is A Real News Source | Denham Sadler

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s