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July 18, 2018, 2:07 p.m.
Reporting & Production

The investigations and reporting of BuzzFeed News — *not* BuzzFeed — are now at their own BuzzFeedNews.com

No longer will “Prosecutors Say Accused Russian Agent Maria Butina Appeared To Have Ties To Russian Intelligence” live on the same website as “I’m Upset That Travis Scott Doesn’t Know Kylie Jenner’s Dogs’ Names (UGH).”

BuzzFeed has always had a branding conundrum.

It produces fun quizzes people love to take, listicles centered around identities people love to share, and wildly popular food and recipe videos through its brand Tasty. It produces a ton of video series, like Pero Like and the Try Guys, or BuzzFeed News’ Twitter-native morning show AM to DM. It has dealings in Hollywood; it’s working with Netflix on a docuseries featuring its reporters, with Hulu for a documentary based on its investigations into R. Kelly. It sells merchandise, like Tasty cookbooks and fidget spinners with the word “chill” on them. BuzzFeed News has produced a Pulitzer finalist each of the past two years, and it regularly produces some of the most rigorous journalism around (for just a fraction: see here, here, here, here, and here).

But it’s always been confusing to readers, where the boundary of “cat listicles” BuzzFeed ends and BuzzFeed News begins; BuzzFeed says its own internal research backs this up. Even back in 2011 — on the very day the site hired Ben Smith to be its first editor-in-chief and to launch into journalism — then-Nieman Lab writer Megan Garber captured the tension:

The challenge…— and, potentially, the big opportunity — will be to combine reporting and reach to maximum effect. And to combine the distractional element of BuzzFeed with the informational.

And despite BuzzFeed News’ remarkable journalistic success in the years since, the general public seems profoundly unable to distinguish it from its sibling quiz factory. When the Pew Research Center polled Americans about what news organizations they trust or don’t trust, BuzzFeed finished dead last, 36th out of 36. It was the only news organization tested that was more distrusted than trusted across the political spectrum — from strong liberals to strong conservatives. The LOLs have proven a big hurdle for the news brand to overcome.

Well, the boundary between news and buzz is getting clearer, starting now: News content will live at the separate BuzzFeedNews.com, which will host a “full range” of stories in addition to its hard news stories, Smith told TechCrunch. Its updated “about us” section now reiterates its mission, lists the masthead, and lists examples of its work and impact. And its homepage no longer prominently features “LOL,” “wtf” and “omg.”

Click on a story about the transformation of a far-right media figure who killed his own father (currently at the top of the BuzzFeed.com homepage, just above “17 Jokes About Anthropologie That Are Waaaaay Too Real“), and you’ll be taken to a pretty different looking site. (Compare old vs. new.) The company also told TechCrunch that its news stories get more than 200 million pageviews every month, and that about third of its total audience reads news stories every month, though it’s unclear where that audience is coming across the content (total audience includes all readers on all of the different BuzzFeed properties). BuzzFeed.com will still display some BuzzFeed News stories that redirect to BuzzFeedNews.com, and vice versa. BuzzFeed News currently features a banner of BuzzFeed Non-News stories, including “Get Dressed For School And We’ll Tell You Which ‘Glee’ Character You Are,” “Chrissy Teigen Was Asked Whether She Would Run For Office And Her Response Was Chrissy Teigen As Heck” and “Do These Trends Belong To Millennials Or Gen Z?” (“It’s time for someone to claim tiny sunglasses.”)

BuzzFeed revamped its org chart two years ago, splitting its entertainment and news divisions, which launched a new round of speculation that the news site was being prepared for sale. Splitting off to a new site did the same thing today, but a spokesperson for the company resisted that idea:

There are some kinks to work out:

(I can’t imagine the number of people regular visiting BuzzFeedNews.com and using internal site search to find stories is terribly high?)

POSTED     July 18, 2018, 2:07 p.m.
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