The sad truth about our media culture today is that people are driven more by their desire for entertainment than their need for knowledge. Perhaps the perfect example of this phenomenon is the rise of the pop culture and news site, Buzzfeed.com. The site, founded by Jonah Peretti, is designed to appeal to young adults and college students through their superficial lists, “GIFs” and self-interest articles that clutter the home page. The site it similar to Gawker.com or the Huffington Post in that is displays viral stories alongside serious news pieces. Buzzfeed, however, has a younger demographic and utilizes lists in most of its articles. Amidst the clutter, however, are pieces of real journalism that are thoughtful and relevant. Hiring the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mark Schoofs as head reporter for Buzzfeed shows that the site is serious about good journalism as well as cat memes.
The site has been gaining a lot of attention from an advertising standpoint as well. With names such as Volkswagen and Nike advertising on the site it is no wonder that venture capitalists have invested an upwards of $46 million into Peretti’s site. This unprecedented success has gotten the attention of major news outlets looking to mimic the business model of Buzzfeed. In September unique views on Buzzfeed surpassed those on the NYT website; 18 million views to 17 million. How the biggest name in reporting can be less popular than a site that regularly features headlines like “10 Adorable Animals To Get You Through The Week” or “14 Babies With Swag For Days” is disheartening to hardworking reporters everywhere.
As much as news outlets want to cringe at the thought of modeling their business model after Buzzfeed it may be what the future of journalism looks like. The traffic on the site is immense and readers frequently share links to articles they read on sites like Twitter and Facebook. It seems that Buzzfeed has struck a nerve with readers and has mastered the art of “social journalism” and other news sites want in. Perhaps the trick to their success are the innumerable lists, the easy to navigate interface, or even the editors’ use of humor; but either way it seems to be working. It will be interesting to see what direction news outlets choose to take as they see readership fall and sites like Buzzfeed continue to grow. If producing superficial and cheap content is a feasible strategy for funding more ambitious journalism, then we may see a day that that form of journalism is the type that our generation consumes.
Andrew Rice, New York Magazine:
Leslie Kaufman, New York Times: