I had to be away from work last week so the usual week 16 lecture in Journalism Technologies at the University of Huddersfield was delayed until week 17. It was a look at the online pure players who have shaken up digital publishing in recent years, from the Huffington Post and BuzzFeed to Breitbart and The Canary.
I kicked the lecture off by showing a large backdrop image of Grumpy Cat, one of the breakout internet stars that we might commonly associate with this breed of media company, and then following it up with a clip of Vice’s memorable fast turnaround documentary on Charlottesville from last year. The message being that while these outlets may have developed a reputation for trivial viral nonsense, they’re just as capable of investing in quality journalism in ways that more traditional media companies find it hard to match.
I included a reflection on academic Mark Deuze’s 2006 call for media companies to embrace what he described as ‘liquid journalism’, which he defined as interacting with the audience, coming up with different ways of creating journalism and embracing the fact that things change rapidly. BuzzFeed for example, which began that year, could be seen to have mastered all three of those points. But as I also noted in the lecture, the recent job cuts there demonstrate that native advertising has not proved the silver bullet to commercial success that some had hoped it might be. Whether there’s room for all of the new players in digital publishing to survive is, as ever, in question.
After a couple of weeks spent examining legacy media companies and how they are adapting to digital journalism, this week’s focus in Journalism Technologies turned to the pure players in the scene: ranging from the long-established such as Yahoo and MSN, to the newer (and certainly more interesting for my audience) entrants such as BuzzFeed and The LAD Bible.
The latter is a particularly intriguing case study: not least because, in contrast to the US-dominated world of tech and media, it’s a company which emerged not just from the UK, but from the north of England. It’s also fascinating because of its popularity – it has almost as many weekly UK users as The Sun and ITV News websites, according to the latest Reuters Institute Digital Report – and the way it has pivoted in an attempt to shake off its reputation for, well, laddishness. Its hugely popular Facebook page, and accompanying website, have been virtually purged of the overtly sexist and misogynist content which were once its trademark.
The LAD Bible today. No cleavage anymore.
For fans of the genre, I must report that “Cleavage Thursday” is a thing of the past. Instead, clicking on even an old link to that ‘feature’ instead takes you straight to the very smart homepage, today being led with a story about Iraq. There’s still plenty of ladbantz going down on FB, but it’s clear The LAD Bible wants to be taken seriously now, and the display ads for well-known high street names suggest the strategy is making progress.
I turned to Mark Deuze and his notion of ‘liquid journalism’ for this week’s theoretical viewpoint. First coined a decade ago, Deuze used the term to describe the way in which journalists and media companies needed to change their ways of working, from the traditional methods to those better suited to the more fluid nature of modern society. Arguably, formats such as BuzzFeed’s listicles are an example of exactly this, which legacy publishers have sometimes struggled to match. In this week’s workshops the students have been working in groups to come up with competing lists using BuzzFeed’s Community feature, an exercise I’ve run successfully for many years with visiting school groups. I’ll see which has got the most views in time for next week’s lecture.
Posted in Lectures
Tagged aggregation, Andrew Breitbart, Arianna Huffington, blogging, Breitbart, Buzzfeed, Drudge Report, Grumpy Cat, Huddersfield, Huffington Post, Jonah Peretti, Journalism Technologies, liquid journalism, Mark Deuze, Mashable, MSN, The LAD Bible, University of Huddersfield, Vice, Yahoo