BuzzFeed: From Animated Cat GIFs To Quality Journalism
Believe it or not, BuzzFeed is of value to the media and news world.
This document highlights the progress made by the site as well as its ambitions for the future. To me, the most interesting evolution in BuzzFeed’s development is its transition from pure entertainment – such as its famous animated GIFs and lists – to quality journalism. This evolution is a growing threat to traditional and digital media with less success and therefore fewer resources.
As Jonah Peretti explains in his memo (quote), BuzzFeed is now profitable and growing at high speed:
- BuzzFeed reached record traffic of 85 million unique visitors in August. The site is 3 times bigger than it was one year ago, 8 times bigger than it was two years ago, and it has served more web pages so far in 2013 than it has in the entire previous five-year history of the company. By this time next year it should be one of the biggest sites on the web.
- In August BuzzFeed had 100 million mobile visits to its site and apps.
- BuzzFeed has become one of the leading original video channels on YouTube with over 50 million monthly views and 2 million subscribers.
- Last but not least, the company ran 265 sponsored content programs and this year it will do between 600-700 with more than half of the top 100 brands. These programs generate BuzzFeed’s profitability but they require a significant work of its teams to produce viral content based on brands messaging. Incidentally, scaling this work will be critical to achieving BuzzFeed’s growth objectives.
BuzzFeed’s success allows Peretti to invest in two kinds of journalism – real-time news reporting and investigative journalism – and to hire reporters. This is a strategy rare enough in the current media environment to be emphasized. Peretti wants BuzzFeed to compete sooner than later with “the traditional news brands.”
In this regard, he explains that “user generated content alone isn’t enough to fill the hole left by the ongoing decline of print newspapers and magazines.” It is a paradoxical – and remarkable – claim from an individual considered as the champion of viral social content.
He believes that “the world needs sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected by television and newspapers.”
Be it sincere or opportunistic, Peretti’s conviction is of value to the media and news world. As I often say, the role of the press is to produce journalism, not paper. The fact that journalism content was accessible only on paper during almost six centuries has influenced our thinking in this regard.
However, journalism is not dependent on any medium. I personally have no problem that quality journalism is coexisting on BuzzFeed with animated GIFs and pointless lists, and even less so if this helps the millennial generation follow the news.