Ophelia Lai tackles online media’s latest trend
Anyone who has been paying attention to the internet lately will have noticed the emergence of a bizarre new syndrome that has manifested across the world of online news media. Symptoms include VIOLENTLY EMOTIVE headlines, an uncanny obsession with pictures of animals, and a compulsive need to arrange everything into lists. I hereby dub this affliction ‘BuzzFeed Syndrome’.
Before legions of BuzzFeeders unleash their awesome power in a barrage of anti-elitist criticism/death threats, hear me out. I like BuzzFeed as much as the next procrastination-prone person. In my darkest hours, brought to despair by the cold indifference of Turnitin and UCL Late Submission Guidelines, I too have rebelled against the oppression of essay deadlines and found solace in ‘23 Glorious Ways to Eat Mac and Cheese’.
In fact, there are plenty of instances where the format favoured by BuzzFeed is the most appropriate. If I want to know where I can find the best street food in London, I do not need a fifteen-page extended essay on the history of London street food and what that can tell us about gentrification and demographic shifts in various areas. Just tell me where to buy churros.
BuzzFeed is not the place for esoteric debates and rampant intellectualism, and it owes its readers no apology for that
Perhaps the most obvious reason for BuzzFeed’s staggering popularity is that it is fun. The focus on human-interest stories, snacks and popular culture suggests that its primary aim was never to be taken seriously. This does not mean it does not cover serious issues, or that its writers are not serious journalists. In fact, recent additions to the BuzzFeed team have included journalists with experience as foreign and political correspondents for traditional news media.
However, the fact remains that this site does tend to opt for a more informal and accessible style in its coverage. BuzzFeed is not the place for esoteric debates and rampant intellectualism, and it owes its readers no apology for that. The source of its charm lies in its dedication to celebrating the trivial and humorous, which would explain the comment from its founder, Jonah Peretti, that the ‘funny stories’ are ‘what we’re about’. This is a website that has a post entitled ‘17 Soul-Warming Bowls of Noodles in London’. London Review of Books it is not – nor does it try to be.
Yet the inherently frivolous and reductive nature of BuzzFeed is why I do not welcome the onslaught of BuzzFeedification in other media websites. News and entertainment websites are not held to the same standard that is expected of reportage from conventional news media. The result is that when media outlets decide they want a piece of the BuzzFeed pie and try to emulate its style, they risk producing material that aims for popularity and accessibility at the expense of analytical rigour.
This is not an attack on BuzzFeed so much as an attack on conformism
Furthermore, in jumping on the BuzzFeed bandwagon, many online media outlets have lost their own identity. Rather than boosting traffic to articles by making their own voices more appealing, news outlets are merely trying to copy the flavour of the month. This is not an attack on BuzzFeed so much as an attack on conformism.
Of course, there are cases where a BuzzFeed-style format is a suitable and fun way of conveying information, but it should supplement rather than replace. Pi Online has done a fantastic job of balancing serious articles with content that Buzzfeed would be proud of. Pi Life & Style’s roundups of the best places to go for late-night diners and bubble-tea enthusiasts are a perfect example of when it’s best to keep things short and sweet, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained by Pi Politics’ list of Politicians and their mini-compositions.
This does not mean we should radically change Pi Online into another BuzzFeed. For Pi Media, the question isn’t ‘to BuzzFeed or not to BuzzFeed’ – it’s finding a middle ground on which we can be both current and ourselves.
Featured image credit: BuzzFeed Press