This “Elements” chapter addressed a lot of hot questions in the industry right now: Where’s the balance — if there is one — between crime pieces and cat GIFs? How can we get people to read our content and glean useful information from it? How can we keep them coming back?
I always forget Vox just celebrated its first Voxiversary (no, I didn’t make that up), so I was pleased to see that Ezra Klein’s views of the news as a Washington Post employee are very similar to the structure of today’s viral media outlet. I liked how he referred to the straightforward, explanatory nature of his work as trying to “eliminate the cognitive anxiety of the reader” — in other words, making it as easy as possible for people to understand some potentially confusing information with the help of words and visuals, but without underestimating the readers’ intelligence. I think the great success that Vox, a leader of this idea, has seen proves that this kind of approach is engaging and is something that users can relate to, and that people see it as reliable even though its tone is on the casual side. Continuing to innovate and rethink how we tell stories to keep up with technology, the public’s vernacular and the public’s view is going to be key as we continue to move forward.
I found particularly interesting the three reasons why history says attracting an audience solely through entertainment isn’t a sustainable business model. The part about destroying brand credibility and authority for serious news is something we can see clearly in BuzzFeed’s push for investigative pieces and breaking news reporting; some people I’ve talked to are embarrassed to have read an interesting piece on BuzzFeed and sometimes wonder how much of it they should take 100 percent seriously. (And yes, “some people” has at times included me.)
But I think BuzzFeed is decently attempting to win back their skeptical audience segment through better forms of storytelling. The company’s hired excellent, award-winning journalists to head news departments. It’s begun and expanded a copy editing department, establishing procedural and editorial standards. It’s even started offering a fellowship for young journalists who know how to tell a great story because it knows the power of one, especially in news writing. I’ll be interested to see whether BuzzFeed’s news brand credibility changes as it continues attempts to expand in this area.