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.
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.
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.