I’ve become known in my program as the “BuzzFeed Girl.”
This may be because every time someone asks me what I want to do in the field of journalism, I immediately say, “I want to work for BuzzFeed.” It may also be because I see BuzzFeed as more than cute quizzes and listicles. For me, it’s the future of journalism (this is the point where everyone stops taking me seriously).
Amongst a group of budding broadcast journalists, investigative reporters, international correspondents and political analysts, I am the only journalist with a focus on web-based content creation and multimedia. As a result, I’m also one of the few that doesn’t cringe when told print media is “dying” or that broadcast networks are losing viewers.
I’m pretty secure in my career choice, even if some people worry about me or don’t take me seriously.
Earlier this week, I met with the Dean of American University’s School of Communications, Jeffrey Rutenbeck, who is currently developing a “Center for Persuasive Gaming” at the college. During class, he talked about the evolution of journalism, as it has gone from overtaking print, radio, television, the internet and social media.
According to Rutenbeck, journalism at this point in time has begun to evolve away from traditional news media outlets (print and broadcast television) to modern ones (web content).
Many of us have already felt this evolution, as Snapchat recently unveiled their new “Discover” section, which acts as sort of a newsfeed in the style of a Snapchat Story. Facebook’s “Paper” app similarly curates news stories by different categories, and lets users view content easily through their smartphones. More and more of these apps and features are making their way into the hands of more people, which allows content to be more accessible and clear for more people.
These new mediums allow for what Rutenbeck would consider greater platform complexity and transformational storytelling. The first involves simply having stories and content in more places (websites, smartphone apps, social media feeds, etc.), while the second involves creating content that is both informational and entertaining (without crossing the line of “infotainment”).
Contrary to popular belief, people’s appetite for news has never been stronger. The only issue is that substantial content is competing for eyeballs with a plethora of other, more entertaining forms of media (examples: Trivia Crack and cat gifs).
One of Rutenbeck’s plans for combating competition is through engagement design, which focuses on making news content more easily digestible. As an expert on game design (and self-proclaimed video game nerd), one idea he has involves combining journalists with game developers, as video games are exceptionally good at explaining complicated systems and immersing users in rich environments.
My idea for better engagement design is basically BuzzFeed’s business model. People read it for clickbaity articles, listicles and quizzes, but oftentimes they’ll also find substantial and informative long-form articles and breaking news stories. BuzzFeed also produces short-form documentaries that vary in terms of entertainment and informational value.
The point here is that people can go to the site for a variety of content and in doing so expose themselves to content that is actually substantial news. For more and more people, BuzzFeed is a primary news source, and most importantly, a legitimate one.
Even though people don’t take me seriously when I say this, I believe that BuzzFeed is at the forefront of journalism’s evolution.
How exactly the field of journalism will continue to evolve is up to journalists and their readers, listeners, viewers and users. Our generation determines what news outlets and medium are legitimate, and the current generation of journalists gets to determine how to evolve.