Less than a decade ago there was an undeniable drive for traditional news organisations to attract younger readers.
It was a strategic push that saw the launch of youth-driven sections, even standalone papers, as well as circulation moves to ensure there was no shortage of newspapers available for eager young eyes to glance over in the classroom.
The general consensus was “get them hooked early”. Newspapers are a daily “habit” for many older readers and that started, for many, at a young age. Picture a scene from a 60’s television series, a mother cooking a hot breakfast, a father looping his tie and packing his briefcase while the kids wrestle over the sports section and comics between mouthfuls.
It must be said, that was the utopia many news executives believed was not only fanciful, it had to happen. After all, they saw it in their own homes. The one thing that is a constant in the traditional publishing world is the influence of what goes on in ones own family or social circle is a barometer for everyone else.
Enough has been said about the missed opportunities, the ignorance by many in traditional media, pushing online to the side like a shiny new craze that wouldn’t last.
But what happened along the way with that strategy for young readers? It can be argued just how far down the track traditional media has come with transforming operations to, not just have digital as a core part of the strategy, but have a digital-first strategy that compliments a range of products.
Print media has its strengths and, in many of the latest redesigns, the newspaper is being focused towards the generation of readers that love them. Give them the best possible experience for as long as they are willing to pay for it: Larger fonts, big photos and longer reads. That’s a good thing.
But of all that effort to engage a new generation less than a decade ago, how much of that energy is being directed to innovating with new digital products? What do young readers want?
Perhaps the greatest misconception of all is that young people don’t care about news. The previous generation will always underestimate the next and that is something news organisations have been good at whining about for a while now.
BuzzFeed is a site that has had plenty of criticism from the old guard. It could be, and has been, accused of being nothing more than a meme-spewing, link-baiting click factory.
That’s not how BuzzFeed see’s itself, though. On the site’s about page you will clearly see its charter and direction.
The Media Company for the Social Age
Reading between the lols on BuzzFeed you will find an ever-increasing amount of original reporting, serious topics and hard news.
In an article published on The Guardian, BuzzFeed’s President and COO Jon Steinberg said that around 40% of the site’s traffic comes from links shared on Facebook, and 70% from social sources in general.
BuzzFeed is huge and it’s growing traffic on an epic scale, expanding operations in different countries and engaging a younger audience. Steinberg notes that is something not seen from most traditional news organisations in 2013.
“We feel strongly that traditional media have given up on young people, and have not made a commitment to tell stories that are interesting for people under 40 or 50 years old”
One of the best things about BuzzFeed is the way they tell stories. While much of traditional and even new media is dependent on huge slabs of text, BuzzFeed manages to communicate through anything from an embedded tweet to an animated gif in its articles. Whatever will help tell the story, in line and in context.
An alliance with CNN is a smart move for both companies, too. It gives BuzzFeed and its hundreds of journalists and producers a feed of footage to slice, dice and tailor to a different audience.
The challenge now for many news organisations is to not just protect and lengthen the run for their traditional readers but transition, or in most cases, reclaim the young audience.
And they could look at worse models than BuzzFeed.