BuzzFeed, most famous for its cat pictures and listicles, will today join some of the most prestigious legacy outlets in Australia as a full member of the press gallery.
The viral news and entertainment website had for months been sending its young reporters to political events like the budget lockup and the ALP national conference, where they’ve cut a contrasting figure to the usual mould of press gallery journos. Crikey understands the reception to the BuzzFeed kids has been pointedly mixed — some see them as the future of journalism that speaks to new audiences, while others dismiss them as purveyors of little more than gimmicks and embedded tweets. With the blessing of the press gallery committee, they’ll be regulars from now on.
BuzzFeed‘s admission marks an evolution for the website after its first 18 months in Australia. Editor Simon Crerar tells Crikey his team will focus more on political reporting, after finding an appetite for political stories among its largely young audience. In February, the website made global headlines when it interviewed Foreign Minister Julie Bishop using emoji (emoticon pictures), while last month, reporter Mark Di Stefano turned up to a Border Force briefing and hammered home the absurdity of the government’s information blackout by asking Immigration Minister Peter Dutton the same question, about the existence of a boat off the coast of Western Australia, seven times.
As part of the new expanded political coverage, Di Stefano, a former ABC and 2UE reporter, has been promoted to BuzzFeed political editor. He’s joined by reporter Alexandra Lee and a yet-to-be hired Canberra-based reporter, who together will make up the foundation of BuzzFeed‘s political coverage. The new bureau is only the latest in its political bureaux world wide. The website’s original American team has a dozen reporters covering Washington DC, while five reporters cover Westminster in the UK.
“We see politics as a great opportunity in Australia,” Crerar told Crikey. “Our readers are thirsty for political coverage — and political coverage that’s more targeted to young people.”
For BuzzFeed‘s audience, issues of identity politics are significant. Asked what areas BuzzFeed will be focusing on, Di Stefano nominates the environment and climate change, LGBTI issues, tech policy and penalty rates. “We’re really privileged as journalists at BuzzFeed — we get to see a lot of the data. And we know people really care about politics. They don’t necessarily care who the speaker is, but they care about issues that speak to them on a personal level. We have a progressive audience. They’re young, smart, and crying out for deeper coverage of the issues that matter to them.”
In terms of tone, Di Stefano says he hopes BuzzFeed will become known as an outlet that looks at things from an outsider’s perspective. “A lot of people see Canberra coverage as being insidery,” he said. “We want to look from the outside-in.”
BuzzFeed‘s heavy push into news has yet to meet all official marks of acknowledgement — Nielsen is still refusing to categorise it as a news website for the purposes of its online rankings. Perhaps the greater political coverage will help BuzzFeed make its case.