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Key links:
Primary website:
buzzfeed.com
Primary Twitter:
@buzzfeed

Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

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.

Sponsored Content

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.

Peers, allies, & competitors:

Recent Nieman Lab coverage:
June 21, 2018 / Marlee Baldridge
News is sometimes a casualty when Facebook and Twitter try to clean up their platforms — Yesterday, Gizmodo Media’s Splinter published a story that included the cell phone number of Trump advisor Stephen Miller. (“He’s a busy guy, but maybe you can get ahold of him long enough to have a product...
May 11, 2018 / Christine Schmidt
BuzzFeed News’ podcast cohost, Jojo the bot, wants to help listeners follow along without friction — *techno beep* “Did you hear that? That’s Jojo, our gender neutral robot.” Jojo, a chatbot, is a cohost of BuzzFeed News’ new weekly news podcast, along with human Julia Furlan). The News, which wi...
May 1, 2018 / Christine Schmidt
Can New York Times readers’ love for the crossword puzzle extend into a TV show? — We’ve watched newspaper investigations unfold into dramas and learned about the values of journalism through documentaries. We might just watch a weekly show about Slack and Twitter drama in a modern-day journalism...
April 25, 2018 / Laura Hazard Owen
Netflix is launching a weekly BuzzFeed show in July — “A lot of times the Internet takes me to some pretty weird places,” begins the promotional clip for a new, short BuzzFeed show that will be coming to Netflix in July and will focus on BuzzFeed reporters as th...
April 20, 2018 / Laura Hazard Owen
Can Facebook beat back the fake news in Ireland’s upcoming vote on abortion? — Facebook ad transparency ahead of Ireland’s abortion referendum. On May 25, Irish citizens will vote on whether to end the country’s abortion ban. In advance of the referendum, CNN’s Ivana Kottasová re...

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Primary author: Justin Ellis. Main text last updated: August 14, 2014.
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