I recently caused quite a stir on /r/dankmemes when I tried to argue that Buzzfeed News isn’t as bad as many think. At the time of writing, I’ve earned myself 130 downvotes and one (Reddit) gold. I was called names and made fun of but my favourite moment was when I was accused of being a marketing team paid by Buzzfeed. The reason that was so exciting is because it was my first accusation of being a shill. Hopefully, the readers of this blog will give me a fair hearing while I restate the case for why I think Buzzfeed News isn’t actually awful.
Let’s for a moment leave aside all our biases towards Buzzfeed’s lazy quizzes and top ten lists. That crap hides the fact that BuzzFeed News is actually a pretty good news company. If you leave this post disagreeing with me that’s fine but at least consider my arguments.
You might notice I said Buzzfeed News and not just Buzzfeed. That’s because Buzzfeed News is Buzzfeed’s newsgathering wing and is what I am defending here. I am not trying to defend the website or company as a whole.
Most of us expect to get all our news for free and that’s not an environment in which good journalism thrives. The big giants like the Post and the NY Times still manage to do fairly well but everyone else is limping along.
The best journalism doesn’t always attract the most money. That’s where Buzzfeed comes in. It posts quizzes asking “What Pizza Topping Are You” or publishes a list of the “22 Times Ryan Gosling Made Me Horny In 2016” Those articles probably take 20 minutes to make, cost almost nothing and draw clicks. Buzzfeed also sells sponsored articles (known as native advertising) like “Which Donut Are You?” sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts. All the ad/sponsorship revenue a from those stories can then be spent on more worthwhile reporting. Such as investigative work uncovering the hidden corporate world that helps executives convicted of crimes escape punishment and a look into how psychiatric hospitals are turning patients into profits.
You may be surprised to learn that not only does Buzzfeed News have six Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists on its staff but one Buzzfeed journalist almost won a Pulitzer last year for one of his pieces. Chris Hamby, the journalist who was nominated went through quite a lot to get the story, he:
travelled to three continents, interviewed more than 200 people, and navigated unprecedented legal complexity to uncover a story of vast global import,
Does that sound like the sort of lazy journalism and low effort content you normally associate with Buzzfeed?
Additionally, Buzzfeed also has at least 20 investigative journalists between it’s US and UK offices. From the most recent figures I could find this is comparable to the number the New York Times and Washington Post has. The UK Buzzfeed investigations team has been described as “one of the best-resourced investigative units in British journalism.” They’ve also teamed up with the BBC in the past to do a couple investigations and got some big scoops.
The Buzzfeed politics team in the UK is also great. They don’t always report on the stories that the other outlets are reporting – but that’s strength. For example, Buzzfeed UK’s politics editor Jim Waterson (one of the most interesting people I follow on twitter) recently looked into one of the twitter accounts being used as a source by the mainstream media in its Zimbabwe reporting and found the account to be incredibly dubious.
Not only does Buzzfeed do great investigations and interesting political coverage but they also do some great long-form work. Like one article about the potential dangers of killer robots or another about how a homelessness crisis can drive prisoners to re-offend.
Finally, and to cement my reputation as a Buzzfeed shill I’ve heard that they offer one of the best starting rates to their UK journalists. So there’s that too.
So yes, I get that Buzzfeed is easy to make fun of. They certainly do some wacky stuff over in their video department and on their website but don’t let that stuff blind you to some of the really incredible work they’re doing.
I have to give credit to the great folks over at Skeptics With A K whose episode about native advertising from May gave me the ideas for this post. Thanks for all the great work you do!