BuzzFeed: Great at Twitter, OK at Podcasts

I’m a big radio nerd, so when I saw that this week’s newstrack assignment was to listen to podcasts, I was excited. I didn’t know before that BuzzFeed does podcasts, but I listened to two of them this long weekend. Here are my thoughts.

First, I listened to See Something, Say Something. In this podcast, named for New York’s ubiquitous subway terrorism warnings, host Ahmed Ali Akbar leads a discussion of current events as they pertain to Muslims. These days, that’s a lot of current events.

The conversation in “Banned Together – Part 3” was interesting and thoughtful. Guests talked about the similarities and differences between the rhetoric surrounding Muslims in the Obama years and the Trump years while sharing their personal experiences with Islamophobia. This added a much-needed personal element to the heavy issues dissected in the discussion.

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Photo by Hector A Parayuelos on Flickr.

A podcast with so few voices can feel long, and this episode of See Something, Say Something—which had only three speakers—sometimes fell into that trap. Overall, however, the conversation was interesting enough to keep me engaged. Plus, I like its mission of listener engagement. At the beginning of the podcast, Ahmed Ali Akbar talked about the show’s new hotline, where Muslims can call and share an experience of a time they felt welcome or unwelcome as Americans. I’m all for this kind of interaction between producer and listener, and I’m excited to check back and see when they incorporate those voices into an episode.

The next podcast I tuned in to was Another Round with Heben and Tracy. Heben and Tracy, the hosts, are two funny, chatty women who, in the episode I listened to, throw back shots and give listeners “11 Ways To Kick Butt In 2017.” In this episode, posted in early January, the hosts and their guest try to grapple with Trump’s America and the usefulness of the phrase “New Year, New Me.” They flip between humor and seriousness in a way that reflects how I talk with my own friends.

I was going to criticize this episode for weird sound design—the mics are tinny, the levels are all over the place—until Heben and Tracy gave an explanation. They were locked out of their real studio and had to rig a makeshift one.

My final take: BuzzFeed’s podcast division seems to be having some growing pains, but in terms of content, it has a lot of potential. See Something, Say Something could benefit from more voices and more direction, and while I admire Heben and Tracy for being so resourceful, Another Round is better when it sounds better. Both podcasts featured interesting people who I would definitely like to hear from again.

I’m also supposed to address how BuzzFeed uses Twitter, which I’ve done in some of my newstrack blogs in the past. BuzzFeed is really good at integrating Twitter into its news coverage by embedding tweets into news articles. Take BuzzFeed’s coverage of President Trump’s Florida rally this weekend, for example. A Facebook Live video covered Trump’s speech as well as interviews with attendees. Reporter Tom Namako tweeted screengrabs from the Facebook Live interviews with accompanying quotes. Those tweets were then embedded in a longer article.

This is an interesting integration of social media tools. It seems a little convoluted and makes me wonder how one reporter can juggle an intricate social media strategy while still formulating how to write about it later, but BuzzFeed reporters pull it off.

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