At a time when newspapers are cutting editorial budgets, a brash newcomer is stepping in. BuzzFeed.com, a website best known for its picture lists of cute cats, is expanding its news operation by hiring foreign correspondents.
BuzzFeed’s foreign editor Miriam Elder, previously Moscow correspondent of The Guardian, is hiring reporters to be based in Cairo, Istanbul (for Syria), Moscow and Asia, as well as a roving correspondent to cover gay and transgender issues.
They won’t be trying to match BuzzFeed classics such as ‘28 cats having a worse day than you’. But they will follow BuzzFeed’s ‘hyper-social’ model where every post is designed not just to be clicked on but to be shared.
Elder explains that the world’s front page is no longer a newspaper website or Google News but Twitter. If BuzzFeed content – whether it’s crazy animals or a foreign scoop – is good enough to be shared on Twitter, the world will come to visit. Already its mishmash of dissonant subject matter has made it one of the most popular websites. If this is the future of news, not everyone is happy. ‘I am thinking of writing “21 reasons why I find Buzzfeed unreadable and a waste of time”,’ Dominic Sandford, a BBC correspondent, wrote in a sour tweet, ‘but I can’t whittle it down to 21.’
Elder, an alumna of Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, counters: ‘BuzzFeed is less like a newspaper and more like a TV channel, which might have a funny cartoon show like The Simpsons and then the news. I don’t think one precludes the other.’
She is planning to use humour – and even sarcasm – to attract people to foreign stories they would not normally click on.
‘The important thing for our foreign coverage is not numbers but to make sure that BuzzFeed contributes to everything from policy dialogue to the way that people around the world are talking about a certain issue,’ Elder says. ‘I don’t set myself the goal of becoming more popular than cats.’