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BuzzFeed is a news and entertainment website that mixes original reporting, user-generated work, and aggregation. The site is driven by social media as a source for finding what material is likely to become popular, and finding the best online channels on which to distribute it.
BuzzFeed was founded in 2006 by Jonah Peretti, a co-founder of the Huffington Post. Originally the site was designed to seek out the links people shared with one another on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and other networks, and most often these items appear in lists containing videos, animated GIFs, or static images in a format meant to encourage sharing. As of 2014, it was the second-most-shared publisher on Facebook and one of the top 10 most visited news and information sites in the U.S. as of 2014. In mid-2014, it had 120 million monthly unique visitors, with about 75% of that traffic coming from social media and half from mobile devices.
By January 2013 the site announced it had reached more than 40 million monthly unique users and had raised an additional $19.3 million in funding. Disney reportedly attempted to buy BuzzFeed in 2014, and later that year, the site took a $50 million investment from the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, which valued the company at a reported $850 million.
In 2011, BuzzFeed shifted direction with the hiring of Ben Smith as the site’s first editor-in-chief. The former Politico reporter was tasked with building out a news operation, hiring reporters, and building sections. The idea, as Smith wrote at the time, was turn build BuzzFeed into “the first true social news organization.”
Shortly after Smith’s hire BuzzFeed raised $15.5 million and began hiring new reporters from places like Gizmodo, Rolling Stone, Popular Mechanics, and The Village Voice among others. Technology and politics were the first news sections to be launched in 2012. While Smith led the reporting in the politics section, with the presidential election BuzzFeed began adding more staff to cover the race, including Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings to cover the Obama campaign. BuzzFeed eventually opened up a Washington, D.C. bureau in the summer of 2012. It also opened an investigative unit and launched BuzzFeed World in 2013, hiring several Middle East-based foreign correspondents and an Australian editor that year. The following year, it announced plans to open a bureau in Berlin and eventually in Tokyo, Mexico City, and Mumbai. The site began gaining attention as a home of serious journalism as well as fluffier viral content.
Upon its investment from Andreessen Horowitz in 2014, BuzzFeed announced a major expansion that included new content units, an in-house technology incubator, and increased funding for its film division, BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. With the expansion, it split its main editorial operation into BuzzFeed News, a lifestyle division called BuzzFeed Life, and an experimental social media-oriented division called Buzz.
By 2013, it reported that it was profitable and had a staff of more than 300.
The site would also add sections for sports, women, and nostalgia, often poaching talent from online and traditional news outlets, including former L.A. Times editors to oversee an entertainment section. In 2013, it was reported to be planning to expand overseas using crowdsourced translation from English language learners.
BuzzFeed also began investing in video with the hiring of Ze Frank to develop a web video studio in Los Angeles in the fall of 2012. By late 2013, it had a video staff of 32. The company also partnered with The New York Times to produce videos during the Democratic and Republican party conventions in 2012.
BuzzFeed runs a partner network of sites to which it sends traffic via links in exchange for tracking information about the traffic from those publishers. It shut down its existing network in 2014 to build a new network around video.
In 2014, BuzzFeed began partnering with the anonymous secret-sharing app Whisper edited by former Gawker writer Neetzan Zimmerman, allowing it access to Whisper’s content for articles. Initially, BuzzFeed devoted 15 writers to searching Whisper for material.
The site has been accused of unethically aggregating others’ content and failing to verify some of the information it publishes. Between its immense popularity and often substantial reporting as well as its breezy and formulaic style, BuzzFeed has been seen as both an encouraging and disheartening sign of journalism’s future. It has deleted thousands of its old posts without notice, saying they weren’t up to its editorial standards and were made before the company considered itself a journalistic one.
BuzzFeed’s relies on an advertising strategy that eschews the banner ads in favor of what they call sponsored content. The site partners with companies like GE, Jet Blue, or Virgin Mobile, and designs a post that resembles the types of image heavy lists found elsewhere on BuzzFeed. The company has a division that buys ads directing traffic to such sponsored content.
The company has a creative team, separate from BuzzFeed’s editorial staff, which works directly with advertisers to write the posts. While the content is similar to other BuzzFeed posts, the theme of the post typically relates to the advertiser’s area of business or brand. In March 2012, BuzzFeed President Jon Steinberg said BuzzFeed ad buys come in between $50,000 and $200,000.
In September of 2012 BuzzFeed acquired Kingfish Labs, a company that complies Facebook data, to help drive traffic to sponsored content.
But BuzzFeed’s push into sponsored content, sometimes called branded content or native advertising, has been criticized.
Frontline is an hourlong documentary series produced by WGBH in Boston and distributed by PBS. Frontline is one of PBS’ flagship national news programs, having won numerous awards since its debut in 1983. The program has sought to expand its digital presence by producing blogs and shorter, quick-turnaround stories on the web. Journalists manage multiple…