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Will BuzzFeed Inform The Next Generation?

A link-baiting story from The New York Times’ T magazine promised "15 Crazy Facts About BuzzFeed That Will Totally Blow Your Mind."But after digesting that "Viewers have spent approximately 42,972 years on BuzzFeed since it was started in 2006,” and that “there have been more than 22,500 articles about cats posted to the site," (and 13 other even-less-impressive Crazy Facts), my mind was somehow still pretty much intact. What would blow it is if BuzzFeed delivered on even a small portion of its over-hyped headline teasers.

The real problem is that, as mentioned above, viewers have actually spent about 42,972 years on the site since 2006. BuzzFeed and its ilk are the 21st-century equivalent of chewing gum for the eyes, requiring nothing more of their audiences than clicks. In fact, the entire enterprise is built around building traffic that it can monetize with advertising.  That what you read there (or more importantly to BuzzFeed, send to your friends, especially via social media) are totally empty calories that contribute nothing to the nutrition of your brain, seems to matter not one bit to its devotees.

Meanwhile, a survey of 19,000 people in 10 countries, conducted by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford, finds that only one Internet user in 10 was willing to pay for digital news last year: exactly the same proportion as in 2012. In the U.S., 30% of those subscribing to a digital news service chose the New York Times, 32% opted for a local or city paper, and 16% cent selected the Wall Street Journal.

Now it would be a fool's errand to try and compare legitimate news operations to time-sucks like BuzzFeed -- and after all, folks are voting with their clicks.  Legacy news organizations are desperately scrambling to compete in the digital world -- why else would a Times magazine run its own link-baiting headlines -- but in no way can they replace the print ad and subscription revenue they are losing as news habitués age and die on them. Younger folks are simply not traditional news readers (or viewers). They like BuzzFeed.

Somewhere between BuzzFeed and “60 Minutes” is Vice Media, which might get a billion bucks from Time Warner one of these days. In facts there are lots of efforts to make news more palatable for younger adults grown up on digital, from Touchvision to OZY. But it is a steep climb for all, since the quick and dirty seems to persistently trump the thoughtful and informative.

Kickstarter this week added journalism as a new crowd-funding category for those who want to keep real news alive on a story-by-story basis.  But it will be interesting to see if folks pony up for heavy lifting like the Economic Outlook for Detroit, or if they elect to only pay for stories that support their own worldviews.

In any and all cases, we are voting. By giving the BuzzFeeds our attention, we are voting. By refusing to support real news, we are voting.  Let's hope that the winners will serve our children as diligently as traditional news served our generations.

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3 comments about "Will BuzzFeed Inform The Next Generation? ".
  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 13, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.
    Cross your fingers. Not going in that direction, George. BTW, VICE is a great more in depth supplement to e.g. the NYT, etc.
  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc , June 16, 2014 at 5:10 p.m.
    I'm surprised that "The New York Times" accepted the 42,972 years figure, which is amusing to quote but doesn't tell you how much time the average user spends on the Buzzfeed site.
  3. Karen Stanol from Global Recruiters of Calabasas , June 17, 2014 at 6:15 p.m.
    42,972 years???! as in 17,509,780 days?!! If only all that energy could be channeled into something that truly makes a difference in the world! (Then again, we might miss out on some really great cat videos...)