The year is 2015 and you just got done commenting on a stranger’s post that the dress is black and blue. Thanks to the entertainment and news media outlet BuzzFeed life will never be the same, and no argument will ever be as heated as the color of a random dress.
But since then, the hype surrounding the outlet seems to have quieted substantially; in fact, the last you heard of BuzzFeed might very well have been from the “Why I left BuzzFeed” videos plastered all over YouTube.
After departing from The Huffington Post, American entrepreneur Jonah Peretti brought the white arrow of BuzzFeed to life in 2006. His clickbait-loving media company soon began to produce content that reached millions of viewers and readers who looked forward to watching out-of-the-box ideas come to life, participating in interactive self-enlightening quizzes and scrolling through hard news headlines.
Unfortunately, BuzzFeed production material has never found satisfactory middle ground between being both intellectually stimulating and laugh-out-loud hilarious. With that being said, here are some contributing factors to the decline of America’s entertainment hub.
Recycled Video Material & Lack of Familiar Faces
BuzzFeed video has been a staple in YouTube’s most beloved videos collection, but with the constant daily uploads and recycled material, their ratings have taken a severe hit. BuzzFeed’s latest videos from this week each maxed out at below 351K views, a fraction compared to their past content weekly uploads.
Once their core audience, even students have gradually lost interest in the site. “I only watched BuzzFeed for the people,” said SUNY Plattsburgh junior Ariana. “After my favorite creators and video stars left, I no longer found their videos funny or even entertaining. I haven’t watched a single BuzzFeed video since the Try Guys departed.”
Indeed, as the site’s greatest success stories left BuzzFeed and struck out on their own, their alma mater suffered. Stars like Safiya Nygaard, Chris Reinacher, Candace Lowry, Michelle Khare and The Try Guys have started their own YouTube channels with innovative videos that challenge BuzzFeed own ingenuity.
It’s clear that a lot of notable OG BuzzFeed personalities felt restricted and unmotivated in their positions, saying that they were unable to pursue their own video projects or channels outside of work, and that BuzzFeed was so focused on content going viral that quality often took a backseat. So, maybe jumping off a sinking ship is the right way to go.
While Peretti’s company has never been known as a legitimate news source, its disputed report back in January about President Trump and Michael Cohen regarding the Moscow project didn’t help to extinguish any lingering doubts. BuzzFeed’s unjust honoring of clickbait headlines over accurate fact-checking has created a pile of defamation lawsuits on Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith’s office and a poor rating on Media Bias/Fact Check. On top of that, in a 2017 poll, Buzzfeed News was rated as one of the least-trusted news sources in the U.S.
While the site’s writers and editors have made valiant attempts to get noticed for their cutthroat journalism, even receiving a Pulitzer Prize nomination for their work, the general public hasn’t seen much progress from quiz central, which has hastened their decline. For readers today, fluffy quizzes are not enough; they want to stay in tune with the world, and BuzzFeed doesn’t have the gravitas to give people what they want.
The newspaper industry is dying, and it’s not just the physical newspaper industry that is fading away — the digital media industry is also seeing a dramatic hit in its revenue intake. In January 2019, BuzzFeed cut its staff size down by 15 percent, laying off around 220 employees. According to the CEO, BuzzFeed is restructuring to “focus in on the content that is working, and achieve the right cost structure to support our multi revenue model.”
They are not the only company to be administering extreme cut backs on their staff; places like Vice Media, Verizon and New York Media are also taking drastic measures, and it’s only a matter of time until the payoff is clear.
Decline of Quality Content
Since “the dress” went viral in 2015, it seems like BuzzFeed has been one-track minded with each content upload: go viral or we failed. Now, while going viral can be an accurate measure of success for media companies, it starts to dig its claws into the quality of the content sooner or later.
After a quick stop at BuzzFeed.com, the top three posts today were: Pick A Baby Name For Every Letter And We’ll Guess Your Hair Color, Which City Should You Travel To? and Shop At Urban Outfitters And We’ll Tell You What Kind Of Pet You Should Own. Surprisingly enough, all three of these popular quizzes were written by members of the BuzzFeed Community.
The BuzzFeed Community is a free userbase that allows everyday people to write and publish their own quizzes and listicles on the BuzzFeed homepage, and while I applaud this type of “interactive journalism,” it has certainly gotten tired fast and has led to the layoff of one very important employee.
Matthew Perpetua, former director of quizzes, said in a post about being let go from the company, “You might be wondering — wait, why would they lay you off? You were doing the quizzes, and that brings in a lot of money! Well, that is true. But another thing that is true is that a LOT of the site’s overall traffic comes from quizzes and a VERY large portion of that traffic comes from a constant flow of amateur quizzes made by community users… it makes sense for the company to pivot to having community users create almost all of the quizzes going forward. I understand math. I get it.”
Overall, BuzzFeed is trapped in its reputation as the laughing stock of news sources, it lost a major chunk of its talent and is producing unwanted content. While its social media is still strong, the rest of the site seems doomed to decline.