How BuzzFeed covers news

By Vivian, Wen Lu

BuzzFeed has attracted a lot of attention in recent years as an example of a company being successful in the digital age. Jim Waterson, who joined BuzzFeed UK in 2013 and is now political editor, explained how BuzzFeed transferred from initially being a tech company doing ‘enjoyable trash’ to a global news platform trying to operate more like a professional and responsible media organisation following traditional journalistic concepts.

1.  From Tech Company to news

Waterson pointed out that BuzzFeed has been run more as a technology company rather than a traditional media organization. The basic format of news production has two steps: identify what goes viral online and then think about how to reach as many readers and audience as possible.  Another important “tech company” characteristic is that every story includes real-time statistics on clicks and likes, which means everyone knows what’s doing well.

2. Either Go Niche or Go Big

In terms of story selection and packaging, Waterson mentioned four “BuzzFeed criteria” which has brought them success and popularity among global citizens: first of all, offer something different to what other media can provide. Secondly, BuzzFeed never underestimates the influence and branding value of doing “serious news”.  So they try to do interviews with important figures from all over the world which make BuzzFeed look more professional. Thirdly and perhaps exclusively, they add a sense of humor, with the proviso that the content should not be offensive.  Then lastly, Waterson says, ‘Go niche or go big’, as both will have impact.

3. Going Native Platforms

One of the most urgent crises faced by media currently is the shrinking business model in the age of the digital and internet. Waterson pointed out that more and more of BuzzFeed readers see their content on social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Waterson indicated that in fact BuzzFeed will take a more aggressive approach to adjusting themselves for key platforms like Facebook.  He admitted that the business model for all organisations who rely on advertising is facing big challenges when so many users are using ad-blockers.

Jim Waterson, deputy editor, BuzzFeed UK was speaking at a Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday 2 March 2016.