- Back in 2006 Jonah Peretti launched an idiosyncratic side project with his partner John Johnson, initially not grasping the vast of impact it would have on today’s creative industries (New York Magazine, 2013). His successful media outlet, popularly known as BuzzFeed, has become the most influential news organization in America and continues to spread worldwide. Pulling inspiration from previous media eras, Peretti believes “major technological change has always created opportunities for new publications to lead the way- until the industry shifts again. When Edward R. Murrow moved from radio to television, people said it was undignified. When CNN first aired people made fun of it because it was so grassroots and low budget” (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015).
- It’s undeniable that no one masters content and functionality on the Internet better than BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti. What’s the secret to his platform’s success? Data. The output of the site is based on tracked content of their audiences (Fortune, 2017). “In traditional media, organizations need to make things that will appeal to 80 percent of the population. In social media, it is quite the opposite. The more specific our content is, then the more useful it is to that audience,” notes Peretti (Bill Connolly, 2017). In the early years of BuzzFeed, the only way they produced their material was through the use of algorithms to show ‘stirrings of virality’ on the web. They persuaded companies to allow their programming to monitor their partner sites and collect information to create a strong appeal to the public on the Internet (New York Magazine, 2013). In simplest terms, BuzzFeed’s innovation has more to do with how content is followed across the web, rather than how the content is presented on their site (Fortune, 2017).
- In many other current creative industries, the focus on audience research is profound as well (Hesmondhalgh, 2013). ‘Audience power’ is commercial mass media’s principal product (Dallas Smythe, 2006, 233). “The way that cultural industries conceive of their audience is changing. There is a greater emphasis on audience research, marketing and addressing niche audiences” (Hesmondhalgh, 2013). The producers of media create an environment through the consumer’s various interactions on the Internet.
- Appealing to the customer has always been a strong suit of BuzzFeed. They exude an omniscient-like understanding of data flow across the internet with incredible precision, creating relatable articles for all different types of members in their audiences (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). “It turns out Peretti’s vaunted algorithm revealed an obvious truth: People like upbeat, even childlike content” (New York Magazine, 2013). Heavy and light content stories generally appear to be synthesized together, and subsequently flood reader’s social media feeds. What makes BuzzFeed unique is their revolutionary way of reporting on both types of content, ranging from GIFs of Ryan Gosling, silly quizzes and serious political articles (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed), which make them a well-rounded news source.
- Being able to capture and generate emotionally triggering content puts BuzzFeed a few steps ahead of most media sites. “Great content isn’t about the content itself, but the emotion it can evoke from its audience” (Bill Connolly, 2017). Their belief about producing spreadable media revolves around the idea that a reader is more likely to share a post when they feel a sentiment, sympathy, grief, happiness, inspiration, pride and even anger towards the content in an article. Peretti spoke on this at a recent conference stating: “We think of media as something people use to help them in their lives” (Bill Connolly, 2017). This rings true in the articles that they continue to successfully produce.
- Back in 2012, BuzzFeed noticed an increase in shared content labelled as ‘comforting’ after the horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Their response to this was to create positive content specifically for the people in shock from the incident and lift their spirits in this devastating time. The relevant article was called “26 Moments That Restored Our Faith in Humanity This Year”. This is a great example of BuzzFeed’s algorithmic process in action. Not only does this show how they use the data to create articles, it highlights the deep seeded interest in the reader’s emotions (Bill Connolly, 2017). This process applies to a political economy, which can be defined as “the study of social relations that mutually constitute the production, distribution, and consumption of resources, placing the goal of understanding social change and historical transformation in the foreground” (Vincent Mosco, 2009, 12-13). All of the aspects of this are equally as important when creating media product a specific audience.
- One method to gather data regarding customer interest is through the analysis of customer traffic in advertisements. BuzzFeed manages to implement a “native advertising” technique where they create “custom content worth sharing” (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). Their site refrains from using traditional banner ads and are meant to be easily digestible for the readers, just as their articles are. “Users are not passive watchers, but to a certain degree active creators of content. The users’ data is sold to the advertisers as a commodity (uploaded data, social networks, interests, demographic data, browsing and interaction behavior)” (Fuchs, 2012). These days advertisements center on appealing to customer interests, which help offer an insight to companies on what they should tailor their content to (McFall, 2009).
- There has been some discussion about whether or not advertisers influence the articles written on their site, especially when BuzzFeed relies so heavily on them for content purposes and generate a considerable amount of their revenue from them. In one instance, there was an article about Dove that had been removed by the BuzzFeed editors. They claimed that the writer of the article tried to “advance a personal opinion instead of reporting on a larger conversation” instead of using ‘BuzzFeed’s voice’ (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). The controversy arose because of Dove’s advertiser affiliation with BuzzFeed, which sparked criticism. Peretti came out later clearly stating that their advertising relationship was not a factor in the removal of the article from their site. Shortly after, the article was reinstated to BuzzFeed’s website (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015).
- This cracks open the topic of ownership and autonomy in creative industries. Does the use of data retrieval restrict the creative potential of BuzzFeed employees? Do they have finite opportunities to explore their own realms of interest? Does it jeopardize pluralism in respect to keeping free and diverse media outlets?
- This ongoing debate about ownership looks at public versus privately owned media. Private outlets are concerned with serving the public, while public outlets are capitalist enterprises with the main goal of making money (Edwin Baker, 2007). BuzzFeed is private and autonomous in the aspect that it’s an individually owned company with a multitude of employees creating work for the site, but the link between them and advertisers and the algorithms raise concern about media concentration. “The sorts of public policies which are, or ought to be, adopted in order to deal with concentrated media ownership depend on what impact such concentrations are thought to have on the collective good of society. This is a complex and, at times, controversial issue” (Gillian Doyle, 2002, p.11). We can appreciate the multiplicity of voices BuzzFeed provides, but how far does the idea of ownership go in affecting their diversity?
- Indicated in his article, Edwin Baker insists that there are several reasons why we should avoid concentration; vulnerability to outside pressures, inefficient synergies, and internal distortions (Edwin Baker, 2007). Even though the internet offers a large amount of diversity, we can still see the power of large entities on the way things are reported to the public. It has everything to do with lack of media monopoly regulation as of late. With focus on profit, there’s a noticeable downward shift in quality of content. We need to be cognizant of the potential threat of autocracy in the creative industries if we allow a very slim margin for who controls the media. Ending up with just one body in charge would be disastrous for the industry altogether (Edwin Baker, 2007).
- Even today you can see where we may be headed in the wrong direction. Currently the company Newscorp owns the top newspapers in the U.K., Australia, and even the in the United States. In the United States alone, five global dimension firms have stake in most of the magazines, book publishing, motion picture studios, radio, television, and newspapers (Bagdikian, 2004, p.3). In the U.K., 71% of the national newspaper market is owned by three companies. Including online content, 80% is owned by five companies (Media Reform Coalition, 2015). This is an issue that needs to be addressed swiftly and accordingly. “The Internet should be a universal, open and essentially free space. Technology is liberating- it can empower individuals, facilitate independent communication and mobilization, and strengthen an emergent civil society” (Gillian Doyle, 2002). With the digital economy growing, taking up atleast 8% of the U.K.’s GDP (Digital Britain Report, 2009), we must continue to find ways for content to be empirical and open minded and not dominated by the large companies.
- BuzzFeed has looked at expanding their empire into other realms of creative industries. Peretti has mentioned getting involved in the creation of apps and mobile videos, as well as their launchings of several podcasts that are centered on Millennial audiences (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). “We see lots of trends merge together. Video, mobile usage, and social media have converged and we are at the center of that behavior,” said Peretti (Bill Connolly, 2017). BuzzFeed always appears to be ahead of the curve, anticipating what we need and want before we even know it. “The largest companies no longer specialize in a particular cultural industry; they now operate across a number of different cultural industries. These conglomerates compete with each other, but, more than ever before, they are connected in complex webs of alliance, partnership and joint venture” (Hesmondhalgh, 2013, p.3). They are spreading vastly and will continue to grow for years to come.
- Some like to draw similarities between USA Today and BuzzFeed, which Peretti naturally deflects. Although the fact that both embrace charts, photos, and short amounts of text, the resemblance is quite striking. Regarding the trend of each of their success, both platforms attracted an incredible amount of readers. Timesreported USA Today having “earned itself more than five million readers and the grudging respect of competitors and many journalists” (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). New York Times logs in around 57 million unique readers, while BuzzFeed has itself boasts a hefty 78 million (Fortune, 2017).
- Even though BuzzFeed is an American-based media site, their content has circulated across national borders and become a large source of information and entertainment for people all across the globe, not just young people. Their presence on the Internet extends far beyond the “fluff” pieces that they’re usually known for. The serious political posts should be taken seriously, especially with all their combination of creative research and access to data. BuzzFeed managed to expose an invalid statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he claimed they hadn’t deployed any Russian troops in Ukraine. Social media told us otherwise. A Russian soldier posted pictures of himself driving around in a tank with a geo-tag from inside of the country of Ukraine, which an employee at BuzzFeed uncovered (Bill Connolly, 2017). This goes to show how clever they can get with the use of technology to write interesting and important articles about real life issues in all corners of the world.
- The editorial team at BuzzFeed pushes the boundaries of the industry. They dish out media product that relates to specifically to certain groups while keeping them connected in the same swoop. They keep the Internet on their toes by providing early coverage of hot topics, such as same-sex marriage and immigration (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). “The Internet is the most influential medium- and, in some crucial ways, BuzzFeed demonstrates an understanding of that medium better than anyone else” (The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed, 2015). With 200 million unique monthly readers and 1 billion video views a month, it’s safe to assume that BuzzFeed isn’t going away anytime soon.
How to Edit Any Web Page in your Browser
- Go to Browser Menu.
- Select View –> Developer –> Developer Tools
- This will open the Developer Tools on any web page.
- Switch to the Console Tab.
- Type the following command into the Console window and hit enter:
document.body.contentEditable = true
- This makes the entire webpage editable- Click anywhere on the web page and start typing.
How many differences do you spot?
- Once the webpage is refreshed, all the edits will reset back to the original webpage.