Future of News: Fun Edition?

This week’s PandoMonthly with Jonah Peretti reminded me, the future of news can be fun.

Peretti’s energy was infectious. Yes, we do live in amazing times. We’re reaching a stage where the world is more connected than ever, where the media is no longer a slave to the Google robots, where evoking emotion is a sound business, and investigative reporting can live alongside really cute puppies.

It’s been astonishing to watch the evolution of Buzzfeed over the past year, most notably since the Ben Smith hire. Last year, bringing Buzzfeed up among established media journalists didn’t even elicit the expected derision; people hadn’t even heard of them. Going from a Facebook feed afterthought to a go-to source for election coverage makes one think, for all Peretti’s talk of a man loving a pigeon, there’s a Sun Tzu-worthy business plan in place.

While I can’t help but squeal at certain posts, I’ve also come to tremendously respect Buzzfeed’s business strategy. I thought we were cutting edge with sponsored content at Tilt, yet Buzzfeed has long been pursuing this as a core strategy. More importantly, is the sentiment expressed in a letter Peretti wrote and reiterated last night:

BuzzFeed is unique in that we are equally obsessed with 1) entertaining content, 2) substantive content, and 3) social advertising.  The teams that focus on each of these areas are equally important which is a key part of our success. We want our cute animals, humor, and animated gifs to be the best of their kind on the web – they aren’t just a cheap way to generate traffic.  We want our reporters to have the best scoops, the smartest analysis, and the most talked about items – they aren’t just a hood ornament to lend the site prestige. And we want our advertising to be innovative, inspiring, and lead the shift to social – and not just be a necessary evil that pays the bills.

Some companies only care about journalism and as a result the people focusing on lighter editorial fare or advertising are second class citizens.  Some companies only care about traffic which creates an environment where good journalists can’t take the time to talk to sources or do substantive work.  Some companies only care about ad revenue and actually force editors to create new sections or content just because brands want to sponsor it.

People don’t do good work when they feel like losers and are second class citizens within their own company.  Fortunately we have avoided that problem.  We love the silly, we love the substantive, and we love making advertising that is actually compelling.  And when we are good at these three things it benefits everyone and the world.

The philosophy seems natural as Peretti is all and none of the above.

But all the industrial organization and team-building in the world can’t replace the fact that he genuinely seems to be enjoying himself. Maybe it’s just his disposition, but he appears to embrace all the change taking place in the world. There’s too often a bitterness in the new media world, an almost nostalgic anger for a return to the way it once supposedly was. Last night was a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way. The future is bright and it’s fun.

I’ve often heard that great entrepreneurs have a vision of the way the world should be and try to change it to fit that vision. A world filled with “serious” journalism, high journalist salaries, and tech sites not based on page views are what Sarah Lacy demanded of the world last night. Peretti, on the other hand, appears to not ask anything of the future. What’s happening is happening, and instead, he’s only trying to figure out how to make Buzzfeed the best company it can be.

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