How BuzzFeed is Changing the Definition of News

26 Reasons Why The World Needs Instagram, Immigrant Parents Watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, and Meet The Teen Sexual Assault Survivors Who Took On Their School District And Won are all stories BuzzFeed has published recently. To an outside viewer, these three headlines read like they could not possibly be from the same site–but BuzzFeed is working to change that perception.

By creating a mix of random “listicles,” viral videos, and serious political news stories via their BuzzFeed News arm, BuzzFeed has become an increasingly popular site for the American public. This rise in pop culture-journalism fusion has led to an important debate: do sites like BuzzFeed degrade the credibility and quality of journalism overall? I believe the answer is no.

First and foremost: people think of BuzzFeed as a social media platform. The social entertainment portion of the site allows anyone to write their own stories that mostly consist of lists or memes. However, the social media aspect exists separately from the outlet’s news arm.  

“BuzzFeed News” is a distinct site that has a staff of over 500 people around the globe that publish hard news. It has even been recognized as as an extremely high-quality news site, with one piece named as a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.  

Together, these sites provide BuzzFeed with 200 million unique visitors per week, allowing the company to remain a top social media and news website in America and around the globe.

Despite this high viewership and critical acclaim from some, tensions concerning the level of real journalism BuzzFeed News produces heightened after a dossier was published containing allegations from a former British intelligence operative against President Trump in January 2017.  

Without confirming sources, BuzzFeed News decided to publish a 35 page dossier from a former British intelligence operative summarizing allegations made against President Trump from Russian agents.  

This unverified publication infuriated not only President Trump who called BuzzFeed News a,“failing pile of garbage,” but also other credible news organizations. CNN, for example, distanced itself from BuzzFeed in a statement, saying, “CNN’s decision to publish carefully sourced reporting about the operations of our government is vastly different than BuzzFeed’s decision to publish unsubstantiated memos.”   

But BuzzFeed saw the unverified information in a different light.

“In the long term, we all have to reckon with the reality that we’ve got to engage information that is out there–true and false–do our best to verify it and be as transparent as we can with our readers about what we know, what we don’t know and what we doubt,” BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief, Ben Smith, stated in an interview with MSNBC about the controversy.

Buzzfeed News has also been under scrutiny for writing sponsored stories. By using “click-bait” titles, BuzzFeed gains viewers on these sponsored stories (for which the company gets paid per click). These stories have subtle messages to buy certain products or services.   

Though this principle applies to BuzzFeed as a whole, sponsored ads presented as news articles, BuzzFeed News are especially concerning.  Political ads can easily be mistaken for hard news which can, according to some, degrade journalism as a whole. A great American essayist, E. B. White, stated that sponsored stories in the news are, “an invitation to corruption and abuse. Wherever money changes hands, something goes along with it — an intangible something that varies with circumstances.”

Despite these flaws, a lot of the controversy surrounding BuzzFeed is merely a by-product of hatred towards millennials and millennial-targeted products. BuzzFeed News engages millennials in news in a way that other news sites do not. But, instead of seeing this as a positive, baby boomer journalists label Buzzfeed as frivolous, stupid news.  

Though some BuzzFeed stories labeled hard news may seem unimportant, they are generally the same positive news stories that give a pessimistic generation living in an era of consistently bad news. BuzzFeed helps keep journalism alive by making millennials care about news.

Indeed, there should be strict separation between art and news, and articles should be thoroughly vetted before being published as fact. But, as BuzzFeed News continues to separate itself from its social sister site in favor of informing millennials and others, it should be respected as a modern news source.

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