Nieman Foundation at Harvard
Searching for the misinformation “twilight zone”
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Sept. 3, 2014, 2:49 p.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Justin Ellis   |   September 3, 2014

Part of being a journalist for BuzzFeed is regularly explaining and (sometimes) defending the website. When every story about your workplace starts with some version of “it’s not all cat videos,” it can be an uphill climb trying to convince people of the validity and seriousness of your writing.

That’s why it’s interesting to hear about how the team at BuzzFeed Business has approached its news coverage. The business desk is staffing up, with the recent addition of the Wall Street Journal’s Tom Gara, and plans to expand its operations in San Francisco. BuzzFeed business editor Peter Lauria spoke to Peter Kafka at Recode about the challenges of writing for a hybrid audience of business readers and BuzzFeed regulars:

What we are discovering is that balancing smart and accessible and trying to appeal to the business neophyte and the business expert is challenging. What has worked best for us is when we really drill down and hyper-target a post to a specific audience.

So, for instance, using the traditional BuzzFeed style to explain short-selling through Mean Girls gifs or explaining compound interest through a quiz, or even crowdsourcing answers to basic questions readers have about the stock market have worked well for the traditional BuzzFeed audience.

Conversely, doing really insider-y posts, like how M&A reporters like to use sex and marriage metaphors or the eight steps to every hostile takeover rejection letter, have done well with the hardcore business readers who get that we are winking at them with those posts.

It’s a situation that mirrors BuzzFeed’s entry into political reporting, which received successive boosts through scoops during the 2012 presidential election. The site continued to built out its political team, cemented by the creation of a Washington Bureau.

But planting a flag and finding the right mix of coverage is only part of the formula for gaining credibility. For BuzzFeed’s business staff, that also means convincing analysts, executives, investment firms and other sources that influential readers are coming to the site. BuzzFeed’s secret weapon is that it taps into young, emerging audiences, Lauria says:

I also play up our ability to get news in front of more people faster than anyone else. The network effects of social media and mobile consumption allow us to reach readers more efficiently with breaking news than any news outlet I’ve ever been a part of. We can literally reach millions of people within seconds of putting something up.

And if none of that works, I just use the old Jon Steinberg [BuzzFeed’s former COO] trick, which is to ask an executive if they have teenage kids and, if so, to text them and ask if they’ve heard of BuzzFeed and if they should work with us. That has an almost 100 percent success rate — there’s nothing parents want more than to seem cool to their kids.

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