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11.5 soundbites on the future of media

Anna Johnston


Known for its listicles, funny memes and catchy films that go viral, BuzzFeed is a traditional media agitator. Speaking at a London Business School event, Ryan Broderick, Global Deputy News Director at BuzzFeed, discusses everything from strange defining moments to Vine videos and, most importantly, the future of media


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1. He calls himself. . .

“A grandpa – in BuzzFeed years. I’ve been with BuzzFeed for four years, which is like a hundred years online. Being the Global Deputy News Director means a lot of travelling and a lot of Google Translate. I work with international teams to learn and write about how the internet is changing the way we live our lives. I love how weird the internet is and hope it stays that way.”


2. We will see big changes in media over the next five years

“In terms of entertainment and news, the internet is separating the concept of news, story-telling and relatability and creating new avenues. So one tweet isn’t an entire story, but a tweet can tell a story. From afar it seems that platforms like Twitter, Snapchat and Facebook all swirl together, but actually the channels are very different. A Facebook video and a Vine video are both short films, but they couldn’t be more different – a Vine is designed for you to film short, separate instances so they can be linked together for a total of six seconds, but you can embed and watch an entire film on Facebook. And I think that as media develops, channels will further separate.”


3. Which content wins out?

“Media will start to evolve so fast that it doesn’t matter what we call content as long as we make, share or enjoy it. Take DJ Khaled, a famous DJ dubbed ‘the king of Snapchat’. He mainly Snapchats his breakfast, but people are obsessed with it. I think we are going to have more weird anomalies like that where people are hungry for the content they enjoy the most.”


4. Ryan searches for inspiration. . .

“Everywhere. I follow, like or subscribe to anyone with an enthusiasm for both the internet and content – teenagers are great for that. The internet is a massive conversation and it’s easy to get burnt out, but as long as you have fun with it and keep the way you consume it casual, it works.”


5. Is short form the future of content?

“Long form has a future. I’ve written 3000-word-long articles and they can work. I think that the move to mobile helps. I don’t think the computer is as good as a mobile device to consume long-form entertainment. Watching 13 hours of Netflix on my iPad or reading 10,000 words about a scandal on my phone makes it personal, like reading a book. I think that’s the misnomer with print being dead. It’s not that it’s dead; it’s that we needed a more intimate way to consume it. I think we are slowly getting back to the feel of a book again with mobile, even though it’s not just words, it’s a jumble of media.”


6. Combining news and entertainment can help inform nations

“Quizzes, listicles and videos help the news team a lot. In a breaking environment or times of crisis, we look for anything that can be used. It doesn’t matter how you get information to people, as long as you get it to them. These new entertainment delivery systems and conversation formats influence, and are influenced by, what’s happening in the world – the news. As long as you’re telling the truth, that’s the important part.”


7. Why London’s an ideal hub for managing international teams

“It’s a great time-zone for real-time conversations. But good old-fashioned email is great for keeping track of who’s doing what.”


8. His tips for surfing data faster include. . .

“I have a second screen just for Twitter, which is not great for productivity. I like CrowdTangle [a platform to help companies find social content] for sorting through the latest breaking news on social media and Capture which allows you to geo-locate tweets and Instagram photos in their real timeframes.”


9. Is the world’s attention span getting shorter?

“I don’t know if it’s a short attention span. I don’t think anything on the internet is new; all it’s doing is giving content more visibility. The ability to rattle off a bunch of funny things to share with your friends has always existed. But Facebook allows you to track it. When people enjoy content, it’s our job to make more of it.”


10. As a global publisher, there is value in thinking ‘local first’

“When we launched BuzzFeed India, we were told, “Make things for India”. Some of our most popular feeds are the ‘33 ways you know you went to [insert local school name]’. Think of the white/gold dress phenomenon [a photo which went viral after it revealed differences in human colour perception] – that all started with a woman from Scotland. It was as local as can be, but it became the most talked about thing in the world within hours. If you focus on your local identity and the things that connect people on a day-to-day basis, and you do that honestly and genuinely, content becomes global.”


11. How will the power balance between user-generated (UGC) and brand generated content play out?

“I think UGC is what the internet was built for. But the moment people feel like they are being exploited means the power dynamics shift, and that’s bad. Authenticity wins, so for me, the user comes first. In fact, I was a user that was hired by BuzzFeed. You get some amazingly weird and wonderful things – videos, design, ideas – from users that just do stuff for fun.”


11.5 Who is a good example of ‘cool’ digital journalism today?

“News website WalesOnline. They have casual fun with their audience. They did a series of breaking posts about a traffic jam that was caused by a One Direction concert. This is what the internet is made for.”


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About Anna Johnston

Anna Johnston is a writer for London Business School.