Quick Takes: Rebranding Buzzfeed

There have been recent trends toward rebranding Buzzfeed into a more investigative news source, despite its reputation as a powerhouse of memes and viral sensations.

Buzzfeed Successfully Engages Millenials, Creating a Promising Platform to Deliver Serious Journalism

After a few years of laying the groundwork for a rebranding, Buzzfeed is ready to take on the responsibility of “fine American news source.” While the phrase “Buzzfeed reporter” may have once seemed an oxymoron, the well-known viral site is preparing to be a serious news source for the 21st century reader — and rightly so.

Buzzfeed’s decision to tackle substantial news was not spontaneous. Rather, its movement began in 2011, when it hired Politico’s Ben Smith, to create a national political reporting team. Since then, it has established a viable news source that releases investigative news stories at least once a month. Three weeks ago, it was Buzzfeed reporter Azeen Ghorayshi who compiled and published the report detailing a UC Berkeley professor’s prolonged sexual harassment of female students over many years. 

Still, there are concerns that Buzzfeed’s effort to rebrand as a news source will attempt to make trained reporters out of writers who are more well-versed in social media and trend-predicting than in journalism. Another concern is that mixing Buzzfeed’s flair for virality with the prestige associated with the New York Times will lead to a downgrade of journalism entirely. In hopes of establishing credibility, Buzzfeed now has 400 editorial writers, 170 reporters and 17 investigative journalists. To ensure its staff adheres to professional journalistic standards, Buzzfeed hired Lisa Tozzi from the New York Times as its news director and Ben Smith of Politico and New York Daily News as its editor-in-chief. It also established international outposts in places like Mumbai, Mexico City and Berlin to keep its coverage international.

Its distinctive entertainment sector will certainly still exist, but only as one of three major branches: news, lifestyle and web culture, the latter being Buzzfeed’s signature feature.

Major United States publications have been struggling to keep up with readership since the Internet revolutionized our consumption of news. The exponentially-growing Buzzfeed easily has 150 million unique monthly viewers to mobilize as newsreaders and attentive citizens. In an attempt to bridge the gap between older styles of journalism and 21st century reporting, the rebranding of Buzzfeed — with its special repertoire of experienced newswriters and increasing dedication to investigative journalism — shows that now is the right time for widely-read news sources to focus on serious journalism, and responsibly dedicate themselves to being credible. 

— QUINN PIEPER Contributing Writer

Whether Buzzfeed Possesses the Credibility to Report Hard News or Not, Remains Questionable

A few years ago, BuzzFeed hired Ben Smith as its new Editor-in-Chief with the goal of expanding into serious journalism and long-form articles. Since that decision, BuzzFeed News regularly produces full-length articles about current events. Now, it has gotten to the point where even the casual browser is quoting Uncle Ben.With great power comes great responsibility, and BuzzFeed needs to gear up for the task of serious journalism.

The Orlando-based company has built a brand out of gifs, videos and quizzes catered to the short attention span of the internet procrastinator. As its expansion into professional journalism deepens, there is a growing concern about the influence of BuzzFeed’s content. When the content is “20 Signs You’re A 90s Kid,” nobody pulls out an AP-Style Guide. When the stories cover the public lynching of two men near Mexico City, adherence to journalistic integrity is absolutely vital.

The problem arises in thinking that one requires utmost journalistic integrity to become a newspaper, which simply isn’t the way free press works. If that were the case, the National Enquirer would have gone bankrupt years ago.

Journalistic integrity is not a requirement to enter the world of newspapers, it’s a requirement to survive in it. Anybody can start a newspaper, but upholding the rigorous standards of modern newspapers is what allows them to succeed the long run. 

Thorough research, public accountability and objectivity when handling sensational topics and having a corporate structure that promotes honest reporting are all essential when you butt heads with old and respected publications, such as the New York Times.

This industry does not tolerate weakness; it ruthlessly edits out the weak links as institutions play the juggling act of presenting exciting news and maintaining professional objectivity. The redactions, scandals and accusations of libel of one newspaper become the front page headlines of Buzzfeed’s competitor, The Week.

 If BuzzFeed wants to play ball with the big kids on the playground, that is its corporate decision. Whether or not it belongs there is yet to be seen, but it is not worth losing sleep over. After all, if it doesn’t we will always have “21 Ways To Tell if You’re Not Cut Out For the News Industry.”

—  NIKHIL KANTHI Contributing Writer

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