I have a love-hate relationship with BuzzFeed.
On one hand, I’m literally always on the site. There’s something about the promise of funny gifs and frivolous videos that draws me in and lets me take a break from the seriousness of the world.
On the other hand, as a journalism student, BuzzFeed is an ominous symbol of what online journalism is becoming: is this what my future career holds? Writing stories with facts pulled from more reliable sources and making lists with a gif for every point? How fulfilling can that job be?
I’m not disparaging the power of humor, in journalism or in any medium. The Internet has given us a unique outlet to put all our strangest thoughts on display for the world to see, and for many people this sharing of intimacy is cathartic and just plain fun. I know I’ve fallen victim to the trap of cute quizzes and spent hours falling down the rabbit hole of seemingly endless content. I applaud the participatory nature of the site; the fact that community members can contribute as well as staff members is the kind of inclusiveness I hope to see in other online mediums as journalism becomes increasingly digital.
The problem with everyone having a voice is that there’s no discretion as to what can be put on the site. I don’t know what sort of screening process BuzzFeed has for contributed posts, but judging by what I’ve seen, it’s not particularly in-depth. Not to mention the dozens of “Why I Left BuzzFeed” videos from former content creators, all of whom say that the emphasis on sensationalism over quality was disheartening as a producer. While some staff members have written insightful articles that are obviously well-researched and professional, the push for everything to go “viral” means that important stories, ones that should be presented to the public, are pushed to the side in favor of whatever will get the most likes and shares.
I know BuzzFeed isn’t meant to be a serious news site. If I’m looking for something real, I’d read something from a site with good credentials that covers news firsthand. But this trend of sensationalism persists: it’s easy to see at a site like BuzzFeed, the 21st-century version of a tabloid magazine, but it is altogether possible that as more reputable sites move towards Internet-based journalism, the promise of Facebook likes becomes more important to the site than accurate and professional reporting work. While it may not matter to most people, who consume content for the sake of entertainment, BuzzFeed’s popularity could be an important indicator of the world of journalism in the years to come.
Hopefully my future job will be a little more fulfilling than compiling Parks and Rec gifs in an article entitled “How You Know Journalism As We Know It Is Dead.”