by Niamh Kirk
Or should it be 17 or 25 now?
There no denying the influence of Buzzfeed can be felt throughout the online news industry. From the layout of articles to the off-beat news, news organisations have taken on their competitor by mimicking Buzzfeed’s work to syphon its success. Having detailed Nine things news brands can learn from Buzzfeed, it is worth taking a look at the other side of the coin.
Buzzfeed’s style, the casual language, use of humour coupled with intense investigations into stories that the mainstream news overlook is what makes it great. And although they say highest form of flattery is imitation it’s important for brands to maintain a distinction, their own unique selling points. And besides, Buzzfeed is great but it’s not perfect. So what should the rest of the news industry leave to Buzzfeed?
Buzzfeed’s writing style is one of its most attractive features, but it can’t be for everyone. The use of caps for emphases globally influenced slang, and the regularly updated style guide makes it one of the most linguistically creative spaces on the web. The casualization makes heavy topics more accessible and viral. But the MORE CAPS THE LESS EMPHASIS YOU ACHIEVE. And the ever expanding lexicon of slang and acronyms that Google sometimes doesn’t have the answer to is jarring at times. But this is Buzzfeed’s brand’s voice, its identity. Speaking in your competitor’s voice is a double edge sword, you might snag some extra readers but it just bolsters Buzzfeed’s image.
2 gifs gifs gifs, galore
But they take time to load. Not everyone is hooked to fast broadband or has 4G signals or good wi-fi connections. Buzzfeed has mastered the art of the strategically placed gif but overusing gifs, vines and images mean a bit if a wait for pages to load. Scanning through articles is hardly seamless as the load times lag and the joke gets stalled.
I am not sure if it because of the native advertising model that products and brands are so shamelessly celebrated by Buzzfeed. Articles that are little more than PR and no critical inspection from a consumer protection perspective are not uncommon. These articles read more like advertorials than journalism. Or maybe they are sincere reviews and they just think you should buy I mean try it. Yea. Try.
4 Creepshots and Screenshots
There is a stomach churning irony in using creepshots to point out ‘how wrong’ the subject is. As if using a photo, secretly taken and posting online isn’t weird enough, they’ve made it hypocritical too. Photos lack context and a snappy one-liner headline doesn’t suffice. There is something uncomfortable about a ‘look at these idiots’ listicles or the Storify’s of other people’s social media posts. It can feel a little voyeuristic, and sometimes like privacy invasion. It isn’t clear if the subjects are happy to be exploited in this way. The news media amplify social media, they take something from a network and put in the public sphere. And media producers know the catch 22 of innocent people having to draw attention to themselves to secure privacy. Creepshots are..well they are exactly that, and there are ethical questions over UGC that are unexplored. In some ways, it’s like turning the classic tabloid sting operation on private people.
5 ‘Globalised’ cultural values
This argument is a little academic but basically, globalisation has a flattening effect on cultures and that some cultures have more power than other to shape this global society. Buzzfeed Inc. as a global media brand with branches in 12 countries is worth considering in these terms. Media carry the values of the culture in which it is produced. Buzzfeed’s origin is in the USA and the English-speaking market has content is a cultural product of the American or British media systems. The commentary, analysis and values that it promotes cannot be representative of everyone. Although they awesome champions of feminism, LGBT, and race issues there are others that will be hegemonic. Buzzfeed’s editorial presume certain economic, social and religious values are universal. (eg consumerism, individualism, sexualisation etc) And Buzzfeed can subtly and unnecessarily pit some issues against each other. It is important to be aware of media that is produced in culturally privileged nations and the messages they can carry. We don’t all have to worship the Kardashians achievements, (it doesn’t mean you’re not a feminist), collectivists don’t have to celebrate individual empowerment (you are not throwing shade) and if modesty or anti-consumerism is your thing, (you’re not necessarily body-shaming) that should be cool too.
Didn’t I read that before? Probably, it’s a virally driven homepage. Buzzfeed’s homepage is not the traditional news site homepage. The entertainment content is largely virally driven mixed with some recent hard news updates. That is why you might find a months old story at the top of the page. Buzzfeed is more concerned with social distribution than being top of Google’s search list. And it makes for a messy and repetitive homepage.
7 Devaluing its own work.
Why put hard and investigative news on the homepage when nothing else is time sensitive? Buzzfeed has published some stunning investigations like the recent and horrifying ‘Science of the Lambs’. It is just that this piece of journalism joy was placed beside such journalistic jokes as ’13 anal sex stories that will make you gag’ and ‘Can you spot the guy with the biggest dick.’ Buzzfeed dilute the quality of its own news journalism by placing gold alongside crap. This is a particular shame given Buzzfeed News has a very positive beat, covering LGBT issues, cultural privilege, feminism and in-depth coverage of stories mainstream ignores.
8 Profiting from other people’s wit
As well as the many original articles, Buzzfeed carries content is simply curating clever social media posts. Buzzfeed monetizes other people’s wit and soaks up the undeserved acclaim. All under the logic of ‘its on social media it ok to take it’. But that’s not the whole picture because the wider context it is this not just ‘use.’ Buzzfeed uses it and profits from it, and they do not want to be held accountable when they misuse it.
There is no point of writing ‘Spoiler alert’ and then following it with a three tier headline and a screenshot that reveals all. And it’s not just one article, it is one combined with multiple articles, each from a different angle, but all about the same show which collectively, gives it all away. No matter how hard each article tries ‘not to’, they always do. If you miss Game of Thrones on Sunday, avoid Buzzfeed on Monday.