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Credit: Image from BuzzFeed.com
BuzzFeed is setting up a new development team based in London to look at new ways of telling stories and engaging audiences.

Tom Phillips, recently appointed UK editorial director at BuzzFeed, told Journalism.co.uk the team would be "explicitly focused on being experimental and trying out new formats".

"That's going to range from everything from games that are incredibly entertaining and go viral, to interactives... and new ways of laying out stories," he said.

"The remit is very wide but it's all focused around creating new formats that hopefully become something BuzzFeed is known for in the same way quizzes became a huge thing."

Phillips said the team would create new "reusable" tools that could be widely rolled out and integrated into the CMS (content management system), or one-off tools for big events like the forthcoming UK general election.

The new team will potentially work across all areas of BuzzFeed's editorial output, he said, such as its investigations unit which produces "longform investigative stories with real impact". The team will look at ways to make these stories "even more impactful".

Phillips, who worked at Trinity Mirror's "experimental project" Us Vs Th3m before joining BuzzFeed, said games were also on the radar.

"That's an area where I think there's a huge amount that we can do that we're not doing already," he said. "It's the kind of thing where the natural creativity of all of our staff could really shine through if we start to get that ball rolling."

However, many of the events the new formats team will be working on, like the elections, are going to be "serious news things".

While the team would be developing more entertaining games or new features for quizzes, it would also look at "ways we can work with data, ways we can bring visual elements to narrative stories," he said, adding that "these are all hugely important for news."

And some of the tools might also be "quite neutral", providing BuzzFeed reporters with a new way to present their ideas and offering an incentive to be creative.

Phillips said "the slidey thing" – a tool that juxtaposes two images and highlights differences between them through a vertical slider – was a "great example" of a simple but versatile format.

slidey thing
Screenshot from 9 Charts That Show How The UK Would Change Without Scotland

Since 'the slidey thing' has been added to the CMS, writers have been using it in different ways, from showcasing celebrity lookalikes to creating data presentations showing changes over time.

"You can use 'the slidey thing' for entertainment purposes but you can also use it to actually tell serious stories as well," he said.

"That's just a question of figuring out [how] you can take simple ideas and apply them in ways that might be unexpected and yet very compelling."

The team will consist of developers, designers, and writers, "people who are engaged and interested and enthusiastic about a wide range of different things, because that's when a project like this will work best," said Phillips.

Tom Phillips will be speaking about visual journalism at Journalism.co.uk's upcoming news:rewired conference in February

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