As part of the Department of Jouranlism’s guest lecture series, we heard from James Ball, a Buzzfeed special correspondent, on how he sees the place of Buzzfeed as a new media player.

1. The key to a popular site is nothing but good content.

You can’t cheat your way to popularity. Today’s readers are spoilt for choice and have become discerning critics. We might be tempted to click on an article with an interesting title, but if there’s nothing interesting when we get there, we won’t stay, and we won’t trust that site in the future.

James Ball Lecture
2. We should not be afraid to write stories for groups we perceive to be smaller.

Many of Buzzfeed’s articles focus on the needs of LGBTQAI+ and BME people. These, and other marginalised groups, are disproportionately underrepresented in traditional media. Buzzfeed has not been afraid to target articles at these people and has found them to be exceptionally popular. Disenfranchised groups are a massive potential readership mostly ignored by long-standing newspapers. Articles covering lipstick shades for dark skin, or tips and tricks for dealing with menstruation are important and popular.

3. It’s important to pitch your articles to your readership.

As well as understanding that your readership doesn’t have to be white, able-bodied, straight men, you should also find out the wealth of your readership. It’s important to write articles about things that are accessible to your readership in order for them to stay interested. There’s no point listing the best restaurants in Sheffield if most people can only afford to eat in one of them, and there’s no point discussing house prices when Buzzfeed’s readership, predominantly in their 20s and younger, are unlikely to ever be able to afford to buy.

4. Everything is changing, all the time.

UK media has remained static for as long as most of us have been aware of it. Buzzfeed is the first new player in a long time. How long will it’s popularity last? We don’t know. As it’s readership matures they might move onto more traditional platforms, and there’s no guarantee the next generation will adopt Buzzfeed as this one has.

5. There will always be a place for quality journalism.

Buzzfeed now has one of the biggest investigative teams in the UK. Finding a new angle on a popular story is a much better article than simply re-reporting the same information. In this new, more competitive, online era, we’ve passed the point where simply having a good understanding of social media would get you a job. You have to be able to prove people will read your content. There are no easy fixes or simple tricks to build up followers, it takes determination, risk, and effort, just like it always has.

Follow James Ball on Twitter