New Media Challenges Legacy Press

For the new generation, the way in which news is delivered and digested is changing, and leading the charge is Buzzfeed. A start-up launched in 2006 in America, Buzzfeed opened a London office last year and has been an almost immediate success. Websites such as Reddit, Mashable, Upworthy and Jezebel have also joined Buzzfeed in the revolution that is changing the way we are receiving news.

“If it’s not entertaining, it’s not news,” said Jim Waterson, the UK Political Editor of Buzzfeed, when he came to talk to the Chronicle. “Buzzfeed combines two types of news – unashamedly fun things mixed with deeply serious stuff.”

Instead of following the “legacy” model of the more traditional purveyors of news who decide “what is good news” for us to read, Buzzfeed lets the public decide what is interesting and important. It measures its success by how often its stories are shared on Facebook or Twitter.
According to Pew Research Center, “sharing” news is the most important development of the decade. Compared to the New York Times, which sees only 7% of its traffic generated from Facebook, Buzzfeed has more than 50%, demonstrating how ahead of the curve it is.

This has not gone unnoticed by the broadcasting world either, with the BBC concerned at its dwindling young viewership. The numbers of 16 to 24 year olds watching television news has fallen by 14 percent in the last ten years. They are looking seriously at what Buzzfeed does, where 60 percent of its users are aged 18 to 34.

Disney has gone a step further, attempting a takeover bid with an astonishing $1b, in response to Buzzfeed being assessed as “definitely a potential billion dollar company.” Why? Because Buzzfeed attracted 160 million unique visitors last year.

It’s a popular revolution that still receives its share of criticism. In response to the coverage of events in Kiev, Sarah Kendzior, a columnist for Al Jazeera wrote, “What does it mean for Ukrainians? Few apocalypsticle authors pose the question, because the only relevant question is what it means for them: traffic. Ask not what Buzzfeed can do for Ukrainians, but what dying Ukrainians can do for Buzzfeed.”

This is arguably the harshest criticism of these “apocalypsticle” sites. News is a commodity, delivered in a fairly vulgar fashion to simply attain greater readership; “disaster porn” as Kendzior puts it bluntly.

However, organisations like Buzzfeed have achieved what other news sources have strived for and failed to do: they have got today’s youth interested in current affairs. In a survey by Newsworks, 60 percent of Twitter users in the United Kingdom engage with online news articles rather than print sources. This is an eye-opening statistic, and shows just how much sources like Buzzfeed are thriving in this age of mobile internet access and instant demand for news.

Reddit is another website that is gaining huge popularity from this change in the way we engage with news. The reason it is so popular is because of the way articles are put forward. Members of the Reddit community vote on which articles they are reading, and which ones they want to highlight to others. The resulting rankings of the articles change accordingly, drawing in new readers. This means that editorial control of headlining news stories rests with the readers, rather than with the editors of the news source. People who go to Reddit find the trending stories that other readers think are the most important.

Whether this “news revolution” continues or not, one thing is for sure; the influence of Buzzfeed, Reddit and other emerging platforms for spreading news that is fit to read, is at this moment in time growing at a phenomenal rate.

By Joseph Braka