Buzzfeed is an online news outlet that has attempted to revolutionize news with absurd results: currently on the homepage (Monday, August 19, 2013, at 10:50 am) is an article titled “Black Prosecutors Ask: What Do We Tell Our Sons About Trayvon Martin?” with a picture of a crying child. Underneath it is a list entitled “22 Dogs That Are Trying Too Hard To Be Cool.” To the right is a picture of a cat being fed with chopsticks. That’s exactly what Buzzfeed creators are going for – posting serious news stories alongside soft, “fluffy” pieces.
Buzzfeed is similar to the Huffington Post (and actually, the creator, Jonah Peretti, was a co-founder for “HuffPost”). Both websites have capitalized on the trend of newspapers giving way to Internet news sources. Both overwhelm users with content, attempting to create an article for everyone. And both heavily rely on submissions from outside of the regular staff. But there the similarities end. While the Huffington Posts attempts to be an online newspaper combined with a blog, Buzzfeed has taken advantage of Internet culture and trends.
Dogs and cats next to hard-hitting journalism? That’s the norm. Buzzfeed generates most of its traffic from users seeking to be entertained, not informed. In fact, Buzzfeed has largely been criticized for using shallow humor as a method of drawing in readers. However, the naysayers have done little to damper the site’s popularity: at the beginning of 2013, Buzzfeed reported 40 million unique viewers in one month.
One explanation for Buzzfeed’s viral status could be the guest writers it encourages. Users are asked to create accounts, and many of them go on to submit articles and lists they have compiled. This is part of the reason why funny animals are so prevalent on the site. Niche pieces, such as “22 Reasons to Love Minnesota Trees,” are also common. The same critics may wonder whether this source of stories is worth it. On one hand, the “hard” journalism is heavily outweighed by fluff submissions. On the other hand, contributors who are featured share their pieces on their social media accounts, creating free advertising and effortless traffic sources for the entire website.
Advertisers have noticed the site’s popularity, and benefit from “sponsored posts” formatted the same as Buzzfeed’s other content. These are sandwiched between organic pieces on the homepage. Often, corporations don’t even need to bother, as lay writers will create pieces about their product out of their sheer love or hatred of it. Buzzfeed also displays links to their partners’ websites, such as NYMag.com. In their last round of funding this January, Buzzfeed collected $19.3 million to add to their $15.5 million previously raised and still sitting in the bank.
Animals, TV shows, celebrities, and a little bit of politics mixed in? Whatever Buzzfeed is doing, it’s working.
Moore, Heidi. “BuzzFeed announces $19.3m in funding as it transforms internet advertising.” http://www.theguardian.com/media/2013/jan/03/buzzfeed-new-funding-transforms-advertising. (19 August 2013).