International expansion without colonial overtones

“Geography, after all, is just one very imperfect proxy for who we are and what we want to read and consume.”

So much of the conversation about media internationalization and global expansion uses a lot of conquest language and colonialist overtones — and sometimes not even subtly:

Processed with VSCO with hb1 presetHow The New York Times plans to conquer the world

Mic, the millennial-run news outlet that caters to millennials, is looking to conquer Europe

Netflix’s Grand, Daring, Maybe Crazy Plan to Conquer the World

How Pinterest Must Adapt to Conquer Global Markets

Not coincidentally, the dominant narrative around the global expansion of media companies focuses on business opportunities and scale, and is mostly one-way (“we’re bringing something to them“). We tend to overlook the most important elements of all this work: people, their stories, and their cultures.

In 2017, efforts by media outlets to enter new markets will continue, but they’ll be more nuanced, refocus on the people, and be more interested in what’s happening in these countries — not simply because of new advertising opportunities. Geography, after all, is just one very imperfect proxy for who we are and what we want to read and consume.

Exchanging conquest for understanding means we’ll relate to and see the individual and the communities beyond the broad strokes of a “new audience.”

The easiest way to tell people about my job is that I get to share the best of BuzzFeed with the world. What that initially meant was taking the best of our content, mostly in English, and making that available to audiences around the world through translation. What that means now, a year in, is taking the best of anything we publish, in any language, format, or platform from any of BuzzFeed’s 12 global editions and sharing it with the world.

There have always been foreign correspondents and translation — that’s not new. What’s different now is that digital publishing has given us the tools for real-time news, faster data and feedback loops, and ways to distribute globally more cheaply and easily. Now there’s not just foreign reporting for U.S. audiences, but local stories initially written for a local audience that are also adaptable for and relevant to a global audience.

For example, if you weren’t listening to Brazilians or didn’t get their sense of humor, it would have been easy to miss the story about why people think Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, worships Satan and how people can’t stop vomiting on Temer’s Facebook page.

millie-tran-brazil-temer

In the traditional model of media expansion, if you were newly targeting a French audience, you would probably focus on stories you’re already doing that people in France might be interested in. But what about paying attention to what your potential French audience is reacting to or already talking about? This photo of a girl’s new manicure sparked baffled French responses, was quickly shared in English, then in Spanish, German, Portuguese, and Japanese.

And not to be forgotten, last year Germany brought us the most memetacular broken door.

millie-tran-predix-german-door

If we do our jobs right, global expansion won’t be a one-way street to cultural imperialism anymore. Instead of exclusively using translation as a means to gain new audiences and expand globally, translation would be the beginning of a two-way bridge to sharing the best of each country with the world.

Millie Tran is director of global adaptation at BuzzFeed.

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