BuzzFeed is best known as a purveyor of viral content. With the LOL, omg and wtf badges it slaps on articles, and its famous “listicles,” such as “43 Things That Will Make You Feel Old” and “33 Animals You’re Definitely Not The Boss Of,” the site has a juvenile, yet immensely click-able quality -- which is why three-quarters of its content is actually consumed through social networks.
The news in March that BuzzFeed was launching a business section prompted some to say, “OMG.” After all, when many people hear “business news,” The Wall Street Journal or Financial Times come to mind, along with an image of a staid, Brooks Brothers suit-wearing financier. BuzzFeed’s audience, on the other hand, skews toward women 18 to 24 who browse the site from school, according to Alexa.com, a firm that analyzes Web traffic.
Will finance types seek business news with their LOLcat fix? Will teens Googling “nicki minaj ass” (a top search query sending readers to BuzzFeed at the time of this reporting) want to read about corporate goings-on?
BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith doesn’t see readership or even news sources as so segmented. “When people open their phones, they’re on Facebook or Twitter. They’re much more likely to open those than your [news] app. So, we’re going to go where the action is,” he says. “There’s a big social conversation going on about business on the Web.”
With the site’s election coverage last year, Smith has proven BuzzFeed’s hard news reporting can stand on its own against the site’s lighter fare and also against the wider world of serious news coverage.
Like BuzzFeed Politics, BuzzFeed Business, which launched yesterday, aims to get its stories shared and discussed. Inaugural stories such as "Exclusive: Secrets From The Sexist Pitchbook Of One Of Wall Street’s More Notorious Firms," "Congress Miffed At Apple For Taking Advantage of Perfectly Legal Tax Loophole" and "14 CEOs and Their Animal Doppelgangers" range from serious commentary to informative articles to humor pieces. Some are more appropriate for LinkedIn, others for Facebook.
Section editor, Peter Lauria, who was hired from Reuters and spent five years at the New York Post leading media, tech and entertainment coverage, says, “Nobody is saying that BuzzFeed is going to replace The Wall Street Journal as an investor’s first business read of the day.” But he does think that bringing business personalities or data to life in fun ways will attract the LinkedIn, Wall Street and executive crowd as well as traditional BuzzFeed readers.
He describes the main business topics BuzzFeed Business will cover -- Wall Street, media/entertainment, consumer technology, specialty retail -- as “sexy and inherently shareable." Lauria notes: “There’s an appetite among people in the business community to not always be taken so seriously and be bland, boring suit-and-tie-wearing people that have no personalities.”
Dean Starkman, editor of Columbia Journalism Review’s business section, says the strategy is a good one. “The reason this makes sense is that it’s not about creating content for a BuzzFeed reader. What they’re really targeting is LinkedIn.... And they'll do it according to their formula -- being as sensational and attention-grabbing as possible. There’s nothing inherently serious about business news that you can’t play with.”
Before launching the section, Smith told The Wall Street Journal he wanted to “bring some of the DNA of a great tabloid business section” to the site. Lauria says this means several things, beginning with having a certain attitude or point of view.
His team, consisting of just four reporters, will focus on a few things and do them really well, and “having an aggressive beat reporting mentality -- working the phones, working your source, and getting stories up faster than anyone else.” Another element they'll focus on? “The incremental scoop.” For instance, when the news broke that Bloomberg reporters were using the company’s terminals to spy on clients, Lauria was the first to report that the company had known about it since at least September 2011.
Getting a scoop before even launching the section illustrates why BuzzFeed’s editors see no inconsistency in having LOL content up against hard news. When asked who BuzzFeed Business’s main competitors are, Lauria says, “Everybody.”