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Feb. 3, 2015, 12:01 p.m.
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BuzzFeed grew its Latino audience the old-fashioned way: with content

“Our lists and quizzes, many of them focused on what it’s like to live one life or another, had mostly not been about growing up or being Latino.”

BuzzFeed has had a goal for the past year: Grow its Latino audience. Its mix of content did better among young whites than non-whites, and it was showing up in its traffic. The site decided to take action, and a year later, it’s seen results — results that could have lessons for others hoping to reach an underserved demographic group.

Its main method was a simple one: publishing more content that’s relevant to that audience, editor Ben Smith said today in a memo to BuzzFeed’s staff. In 2014, BuzzFeed published 112 posts under the “Latino” tag, an increase from 15 posts in 2013.

BuzzFeed’s coverage has spanned from news reports on immigration policy and the situation on the U.S.–Mexico border to its traditional turf of lists such as 20 Emojis All Latinos Could Use and 32 Sweet Mexican Treats That You Might Have Forgotten About.

“Our lists and quizzes, many of them focused on what it’s like to live one life or another, had mostly not been about growing up or being Latino,” Smith wrote. “Our news reporting hadn’t had a particularly aggressive focus on one major issue of interest to U.S. Hispanics, immigration, or on the many other great stories about the broad group that now represents about 1 in 5 Americans in their twenties. Our nascent lifestyle coverage similarly had its attention elsewhere.”

The site’s Latino audience is now proportionally larger than its white audience, according to Quantcast data it released along with the memo. Though BuzzFeed didn’t include specific numbers, the site says its Latino audience is now overindexed at 115 (with 100 representing the overall U.S. Internet population) compared to 73 a year earlier.

BuzzFeedEthnicity

Smith added that even the posts meant to speak to a certain identity, like “19 Things Your Mexican Mom Hated Hearing From You,” drew audiences beyond their intended target.

“That’s because most of our readers have diverse groups of friends and followers on the social web,” he wrote. “And more broadly, news stories that used to be considered in some way niche — marriage, immigration, and conflict between police and black communities — are perhaps the three biggest domestic stories of the last three years, whatever the audience.”

Smith credited Adrian Carrasquillo, who was promoted to editor of BuzzFeed’s Latino coverage last May, as leading the push to broaden the sites coverage of Hispanic issues. BuzzFeed’s editorial staff is 9.8 percent Hispanic, according to an internal study released last October.

BuzzFeed also acknowledged it had room to grow in its attempts to reach other underserved audiences. Though its African-American audience grew last year, it’s still only at an index of 55 — meaning black American Internet users are only about half as likely to read BuzzFeed as American Internet users as a whole. Six percent of BuzzFeed’s editorial staff is black, according to the company’s October diversity disclosure.

In an interview last fall here at the Nieman Foundation, Shani Hilton, BuzzFeed’s executive editor for news, told my colleague Caroline O’Donovan that BuzzFeed would continue to make diverse hiring practices a priority as a means to ensure its content reflected its audience. “The fun thing has been in practice that means that the more diversity that you get in your office, the easier it is to get more diversity, because you hire people, you trust them,” she said.

Here’s Smith’s full memo on BuzzFeed’s Latino growth.

About a year ago, we realized that we weren’t speaking enough to a big group of readers: American Latinos.

The reasons were fairly obvious: None of our three editorial divisions, News, Buzz, and Life, had been trying. Our lists and quizzes, many of them focused on what it’s like to live one life or another, had mostly not been about growing up or being Latino. Our news reporting hadn’t had a particularly aggressive focus on one major issue of interest to U.S. Hispanics, immigration, or on the many other great stories about the broad group that now represents about 1 in 5 Americans in their twenties. Our nascent lifestyle coverage similarly had its attention elsewhere. With some usefully persistent urging from political reporter Adrian Carrasquillo, for whom this is a passion, we decided serving the Latino audience represented a big opportunity and went after it hard.

I’m deeply satisfied to say that over the last year we’ve broadened our audience, tremendously. Figures from Quantcast, above, illustrate that: We’ve gone from having relatively few Latino readers to being read, proportionally, more by Latinos than white Americans.

We built this audience the old-fashioned way: with a ton of hard new work by existing staffers and new ones. We’ve learned quite a bit in the process about everything from the nuances of regional identity to undercovered issues like the intense, complex conflicts over immigration and ethnicity in the Southeast. And, as we’ve found repeatedly in other areas, stories that traditional media think of as marginal often turn out to be central ones, and our investment in this coverage put us in a position to break some of the biggest stories in American politics.

BuzzFeed News covered the hell out of the immigration battle, one of the key political issues of the last year, on Capitol Hill and around the country. We broke news on everything from major pressure by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus on Obama on deportations and the timing of final recommendations on the executive actions to the Department of Homeland Security’s plans for moving undocumented children around the country, and other leaked documents suggesting minors were abused in custody. That reporting was capped off with Adrian’s definitive account ofhow activists pushed Obama toward dramatic executive action.

John Stanton, our Washington bureau chief, meanwhile threw himself into a surprising and riveting series from the border, diving deep into the little-known and troubling phenomenon of cross-border shootings and telling the harrowing stories of gay asylum seekers who made their way from Africa to Brazil and then to the Mexican border. Nicolás Medina Mora went to Puerto Rico to get the untold story of a soldier-turned-killer, and to New Haven to understand what the flood of undocumented children really meant. David Noriega told the complex story of asheriff who sold amnesty and exposed the trend of rising Latino construction deaths. Adolfo Flores, a new breaking news reporter in L.A., was quick to see and debunk a huge viral rumor on the Latino social web about the singer Selena’s killer; and Adrian set the stage for a defining conflict of the 2016 election, the Republican Party versus Univision, in a story the Times followed last week.

Meanwhile, we’ve seen both in our data and in casual conversation that many Latino Americans see themselves in our original, funny, and sometimes weird brand of buzz. Alex Alvarez’s Latino emojis went absolutely everywhere. Javier Moreno explored Mexican slang and life in Texas. The Spanish-language BuzzFeed Español led by Conz Preti’s team veered occasionally into English for soccer and Juanes. We had pretty much the best Hispanic Heritage Month on the internet, hosting a rich conversation about something that doesn’t get a ton of coverage — skin color and identity inside Latino communities. On a somewhat lighter note, we also created a hashtag tweeted by, among others, Perez Hilton. And Norberto Briceño has marched inexorably through the things Mexican kids hated hearing from their moms, the outrageous things you see at every quinceañera, lessons from Caso Cerrado, growing up Latino in Los Angeles, and tweets Mexicans would understand.

And BuzzFeed Life, which just started up late last year, has featured Día de los Muertos activities and recipes, snacks that are Mexican, and dishes that aren’t. Nico also moonlighted with the classic URL, “eat-your-lard-gringo-it-will-save-your-life.”

There’s a tradition in American media of consigning minority groups to specialty publications, subsites and special verticals, and that can in fact be a powerful way of making sure those stories get told. For us, that would have been a missed opportunity. We work on a social web where stories find their own audiences, and at a moment when the idea that Latino, black, and LGBT stories, among others, ought to sit out on the margins seems not just technically meaningless in a distributed media universe but also out of step with our readers’ interests. In fact, we’ve noticed that even very focused posts that may prompt members of a group to say “OMG this is me” — ones like Norberto’s opus — have fairly diverse audiences. That’s because most of our readers have diverse groups of friends and followers on the social web. And more broadly, news stories that used to be considered in some way niche — marriage, immigration, and conflict between police and black communities — are perhaps the three biggest domestic stories of the last three years, whatever the audience.

We learned a lot from this push, and I owe special thanks to Adrian and Lisa Tozzi, who pushed hard on staffing up in news; and to Tommy Wesely and Alex Naidus, whose role in bringing talented new people to BuzzFeed from a wide variety of backgrounds through our fellowship program has been so key.

It’s a kind of intentional growth that we can learn from, and which plays into our core mission of telling the big stories better and with more impact than anyone else. The chart above shows the opportunity we have with, particularly, black readers, and we’ll keep pushing to broaden our audience across News, Buzz, and Life.

POSTED     Feb. 3, 2015, 12:01 p.m.
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