Goodbye, Beloved Listicle Factory

LOGO: AJC1 on Flickr.

Well, the semester is coming to a close, and so is my newstrack blog. Some takeaways from my months of following BuzzFeed News:

-Legacy news media should embrace listicles.

-I am so sick of Twitter embeds.

-I’m going to keep reading BuzzFeed News.

Thanks for following along! My final project for this class will be up soon, and I’m really proud of it.

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Bringing Some Humor to Hard News

PHOTO: Bernal Saborio on Flickr.

Before I start this newstrack, let me say that I hate Delta Airlines. Once, I was on a redeye from Los Angeles to Boston and they delayed the flight four hours because the pilot called in sick and Delta never scheduled a new one. Most passengers had boarded when somebody realized there was no one to fly the plane, and we all had to get off. So this newstrack is partly schadenfreude.

I’m looking at a  BuzzFeed News article called Delta Has Canceled Thousands Of Flights And Everyone Is In Hell,” written by Venessa Wong.

It strikes me every week how different BuzzFeed News is from other outlets. It’s online-only, which isn’t so strange, but it cements that online-only feel with its attitude. Can you imagine The New York Times running a headline like that? The Boston Globe? Maybe the subhead, “No spring break is safe,” on a day when an editor is feeling lighthearted. But if there were internal debates on whether or not to use the word “pussy” during then-candidate Donald Trump’s pussy-grabbing scandal, then I can’t imagine the Old Gray Lady throwing the word “hell” around.

The effect is comic, and that’s the point. It’s an interesting feature BuzzFeed uses across its platform, in everything from listicles to news. They’re using clickbait tactics on regular news stories. Nothing else in Wong’s piece is goofy—it’s a straight hard news story. But I was pulled in by the funny headline.

A rapid-fire look at some other elements in the article that BuzzFeed just loves: social media embeds and crowdsourcing. Instagram pictures of gloomy passengers waiting at airport gates and, at the bottom, instructions on how to get in touch with Wong if you have a harrowing Delta story. Once again, using its online structure to its advantage.

BuzzFeed Perfects its News-to-Brain Delivery System

Tonight, a federal judge in Hawaii placed a stay on Trump’s ban affecting refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it happened before. It’s a second ban and a second go around the courts.

BuzzFeed News has the development covered in a more accessible way than most legacy news outlets.

What’s the shortest route from screen to brain? Bullet points. BuzzFeed News loves them. For this topic, BuzzFeed introduces the new development in the first bullet point and follows it with other bullet points that provide background context and links to previous coverage. Another bullet includes a link to a piece exploring the differences between the first ban and the new one.

One of my main problems with established news sources these days is their opacity. They want new subscribers from new demographic bases, but their coverage remains opaque to those who want to start reading the news for the first time. BuzzFeed provides the much-needed handholding. (So did Vox, before it became a thinly veiled partisan vehicle.)

I could have used guidance like this when I first started reading the news, especially on issues as complicated as Trump’s immigration order court battle.  I hope BuzzFeed keeps this commitment to clarity as it builds its news organization.

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.

BuzzFeed’s Big Data Dump: TrumpWorld

All the president’s entanglements.

PHOTO: Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. Photo & caption by Gage Skidmore. Found using Creative Commons.

This week’s newstrack blog isn’t necessarily about a news article. I have a good excuse, though. We’re talking about data in class this week, and this is all about data.

BuzzFeed News reporters John Templon, Anthony Cormier, Alex Campbell, along with BuzzFeed data editor Jeremy Singer-Vine, have put together a map of all of President Trump’s businesses, investments, and corporate connections. The behemoth’s name: TrumpWorld.

After posting about the TrumpWorld project on January 15, BuzzFeed opened the project to the public. In the post (linked above), the reporters said they spent two months compiling a detailed list of all of Trump’s entanglements. They admitted that they could not possibly have found them all and called on readers to send them any new links.

On January 20, BuzzFeed updated the post, saying that thanks to readers’ contributions, TrumpWorld now contains the link between President Trump and over 1,700 people and organizations. I don’t know the ratio of BuzzFeed-to-reader contributions, but crowdsourcing data journalism like this seems brilliant and serves as a good illustration of something that would have been impossible without the Internet.

I hope that BuzzFeed makes the TrumpWorld map interactive soon. The full spreadsheet that TrumpWorld is based on is downloadable, but it would be great to be able to click around in the map itself. Interactivity is another great addition to journalism that we didn’t really have pre-Internet—take advantage of it, BuzzFeed!

BuzzFeed <3 social media

Twitter & effective use of links distinguish BuzzFeed News online.

My first newstrack blog post! This semester, I’m going to track how BuzzFeed News uses multimedia and social media elements in its reporting. BuzzFeed is an online-only news source, so I predict some level of expertise. We’ll see.

This week, I’m looking at this article by BuzzFeed News reporter Chris Geidner about the latest development in Trump’s refugee controversy.

Acting Attorney General Sally Yates—a holdover from the Obama administration while President Trump tries to get Jeff Sessions approved—has instructed Justice Department attorneys not to enforce Trump’s executive-ordered bans on refugees and travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. This comes after a weekend of huge protests nationwide, as well as stays on the order by several federal judges.

Geidner packed three embedded tweets into this short article. After partially quoting one of the president’s tweets, Geidner embedded the full version, as well as some response tweets from Eric Holder, a former AG under Obama, and former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal. These tweets not only added more context and detail but were more visually arresting than a few traditionally inserted quotes.

Geidner also included the full text of Yates’s statement about her decision. This is helpful—if he included a link to it, I probably would not have clicked on it. It was a clever way to get his readers to gather as much context as possible without leaving BuzzFeed’s site. Well played, Geidner.

Geidner did link to a lot of other pages, but they weren’t anything vital to the understanding of the story like Yates’ statement. He only linked to additional info that readers don’t necessarily need, such as another BuzzFeed page that tracks each development in the controversy as it drops. All most readers need to understand is that such a lawsuit was filed, not the rest of the situation’s context, but Geidner made it available for those who want/need it.

Overall, Geidner used social media and other online elements to make a policy story accessible and readable. BuzzFeed is off to a good start for this Newstrack.