BuzzFeed, the scourge of traditionalists better known for cats, LOLs and 'listicles', is continuing to expand its serious side with the appointment of Paul Hamilos as foreign news editor, based in London.
The appointment is the latest in a number of hires in the UK and around the globe as BuzzFeed World, launched last August, broadens the emotional palette of the organisation beyond light-hearted, shareable content.
"The idea of how we judge a successful story is, first and foremost, is it a great story?" Miriam Elder, BuzzFeed's foreign editor, told Journalism.co.uk of the difference in focus for her department, "and secondly, it's not like sharing happens in a vacuum.
"For me the way that I judge a story as being shared in a successful way is, is every expert in the field sharing it? Are people obsessed with this kind of stuff talking about it, saying it is an essential story to read? Then I consider it successful."
Since launching last August, BuzzFeed World has hired correspondents for the Middle East, Cairo, Ukraine, Syria and Africa to find original stories on the ground, said Elder, while BuzzFeed offices have opened in Brazil, Argentina and France alongside the English-language offices in the US, UK and Australia.
Hamilos, most recently assistant foreign editor at the Guardian, will work as Elder's deputy in maintaining 24-hour support and coverage for the network of correspondents while commissioning and reporting articles from this side of the Atlantic.
Screenshot from Buzzfeed.com
"There's a certain traditional format for mainstream news, and I think with BuzzFeed you've got an opportunity to say what are the themes?" Hamilos told Journalism.co.uk. "What is the heart of this story? Why are we reading it?"
When a Google search of a major news story will turn up "multiple versions of the same thing", he said, BuzzFeed intends to find new angles and stories without the pressure of covering every major story.
The 5,000-word investigation into Mint Press News, a Minnesota website that published a controversial article on last August's chemical weapons attack in Damascus, and a report identifying the PR firm that placed an op-ed piece by Vladmir Putin in the New York Times were highlighted by Hamilos and Elder as examples of such original, serious reporting in the early stages of BuzzFeed World.
"These are just good reporters reporting, not worrying about what the competition is doing on a daily basis and getting into the meat of a story," Hamilos said. "The way that we can write stories without worrying 'what is the current top news headline', to me, seems the whole point of doing journalism anyway."What you want to do is find a line that is different, but that's just the core of good journalismPaul Hamilos, BuzzFeed
The Mint Press News story was also an example of how the foreign news team will monitor social media to see which topics and stories are getting a large amount of attention but that may not have been investigated fully by journalists.
"We took two reporters and did a really deep dive investigation into it and came up with a story explaining who these guys were and showing some bizarre links to Iran," Elder said. "So that was an example of taking a Twitter storm and putting traditional journalism skills to it and coming up with a story."
To Hamilos, stepping off the treadmill of rolling news to find original angles and stories is what matters most. This is not to say that BuzzFeed World will not pick up stories from news wires, but that will often be the first step in a correspondent looking into the deeper, underlying factors.
"We're all reading the internet, I can search for any story I want," he said. "What you want to do is find a line that is different, but that's just the core of good journalism."
Being in touch with a local network of contacts and understanding the audience on the ground in the relevant countries is going to be central to how BuzzFeed continues to approach their foreign coverage, Hamilos said, both in terms of reporting and distribution.
"The old fashioned version of sending a reporter in for five days with a notepad and bringing back two stories has a place, but it's not what the future of journalism looks like," he said. "The future is much more engaged with people on the ground, bringing in things that are representative of local audiences.The way I think about it sometimes is like a TV channel where one minute they'll be showing The Simpsons and an hour later they'll be showing the nightly newsMiriam Elder, BuzzFeed
"You're not going to grow a news organisation if you only think of your English language readers in your home country. You're going to grow it by knowing your audience in the place that you're writing about."
And in the continued expansion of BuzzFeed World, Elder and Hamilos aim to give a digital treatment to a field that has traditionally been the staple of legacy news organisations, making sure that every story takes "full advantage of the internet" said Elder.
"I'm a writer at heart, all my reporters are, but we also understand that embedding a video or pictures from the scene into the middle of a story is going to give the reader a much more complete picture," she said.
As violence escalates in eastern Ukraine, Elder has stories to edit and publish from correspondents on the ground while videos are being uploaded to YouTube by other people at the scene.
"When we're so of the web why would we reference these videos without just throwing it into the middle of the story," she continued. "I think it makes the story fuller and easier to digest."
Luke Lewis, BuzzFeed's UK editor, told the recent Polis conference how BuzzFeed had been learning lessons from its more viral types of content to make news more accessible.
Articles like '29 heartbreaking images from the protests in Venezuela', currently with more than 550,000 views, can engage a new audience and point readers to more detailed coverage.
A link to a story on hairstyles or Leonardo DiCaprio may sit in the sidebar next to a picture-led report on a bombing in the Nigerian capital of Abuja but the same can be said of most news organisations, which is where BuzzFeed is aiming to pitch itself, said Elder.
"Somebody can enjoy entertainment content and can also enjoy incredibly serious news reporting content," she said. "The way I think about it sometimes is like a TV channel where one minute they'll be showing The Simpsons and an hour later they'll be showing the nightly news. It's more of a one-stop shop."
Hamilos leaves his role as the Guardian's assistant foreign editor after a ten-year career at the organisation, for a week of training in New York before starting in London on 21 April.
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