Tag Archives: journalism

What the $50m BuzzFeed investment says about the modern-day media

13 Aug

Are listicles, gifs, videos and quizzes replacing quality long-form journalism?

What started out eight years ago as a hub of cat videos, listicles, trivia, gifs and quizzes has recently been valued at $850m (£506m) following a $50m investment from a US firm.

            Californian venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz has given BuzzFeed a pivotal boost in the form of a $50m (£30m) investment, which now values the internet sensation at more than three times as much as the Washington Post. The firm’s investment in the site has grown from their prediction that BuzzFeed is set to become a top-level digital company.  

News of the investment was released on Monday

News of the investment was released on Monday

            The funding signals another push in the direction of online media and confirms much of what we already know about the digital shift. The advent of digital journalism is well and truly underway and print is fast becoming a sinking ship. While newspapers are sure to become a dot on the horizon in the next few decades, websites, blogs and social media outlets are the new kid on the media block- and they’re here to stay. 

            BuzzFeed is one of the most renowned websites for capitalising on the digital shift. Although the website has recently hauled in hundreds new recruits in an attempt to report on mainstream news and features (politics, the Ebola outbreak, the Gaza conflict) it’s best known for creating breezy content that’s sharable across online platforms. 

Buzzfeed creates material that's easy to digest on laptops, mobiles and tablets

Buzzfeed creates material that’s easy to digest on laptops, mobiles and tablets

            Many of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers share BuzzFeed articles on a daily basis. They’re often posted with a reluctant disclosure that ‘I don’t normally share BuzzFeed stuff, but…’ and ‘This is probably a bit kitsch but I couldn’t resist sharing…’ followed by a listicle that glamourises, romantises, humourises or victimises the daily struggles and predicaments of a particular subgroup. Take, for example, ’27 Incredibly Annoying Things People Do To Bartenders’. It’s irresistible clickbait for anyone, anywhere who has ever worked behind a bar and prompts numerous discussions about which number made them laugh, which number reminded them of that hellish Valentine’s Day shift in 2008 and which number was so accurate they had to copy and paste the link and re-post the article themselves. 

            These articles typify many aspects of digital media and the kinds of things that consumers want to see when they browse online. Aside From A Questionable Tolerance Of BuzzFeed’s Tendency To Capitalise Their Every Headline (each to their own) the rise of BuzzFeed confirms our thirst for sharable, easily digestable, succinct, delightful, humourous, day-enhancing material. We also seem to like multi-media platforms that combine gifs, photos and videos with listicles, quizzes and articles. (BuzzFeed’s ‘Trending’ bar consists entirely of captionless photos.) 

Buzzfeed's header

Buzzfeed's trending bar is image-friendly

Buzzfeed’s trending bar is image-friendly

But I can’t ignore the fact that a website that has a ‘LOL Feed’, a ‘Cute Feed’, an ‘OMG Feed’ and a ‘WTF Feed’ is being dubbed as the next big thing on the media scene. I don’t doubt that BuzzFeed deserves such a title- it has, after all, successfully tapped into digital trends and consumer demands- but I worry about what the potential accession of BuzzFeed as a dominant media company says about the nature of our consumer demands in the first place. 

            Articles such as ’Weird Little Things All Couples Do’, ’23 Things Women Are Tired of Hearing’ and ‘21 Celebrities Who Prove Glasses Make Women Look Super Hot’- besides demonstrating a short-sighted willingness to tarring all couples and all women with the same brush- are simply self-justifying articles that social media users can regurgitate to legitimise how they’re feeling at any given moment. It’s closed-minded material that tells specific subgroups how to feel about other subgroups, and it’s not open for discussion.

            Then there’s the fact that listicles go against every English student grain of my being. BuzzFeed is like a giant slap in the face to everything I was taught at A-Level: it’s taking the numbered paragraph plan from my notes and forgetting to bother with the final product. Writing a listicle is much easier than crafting a nuanced, comprehensive, articulate, well-structured column consisting of those long-forgotten things we call ‘paragraphs’.

            But BuzzFeed is capable of winning over even the most orthodox among us. As a travel writer, ‘16 Encounters That Prove The World Is Smaller Than You Think’ totally got me clicking. As a cat-lover, I’m also lured in by ’13 Iconic Movies Improved By Cats’ and as a feminist, I really enjoyed ’18 Inventions By Women That Changed The World’. BuzzFeed has tapped into the likes and dislikes of just about anyone and is writing irresistibly light-hearted entertainment pieces that resonate perceptively with those interests. 

            We’re yet to find out whether the venture capital investment will bear fruit and BuzzFeed will become the website to reign over all. Perhaps if BuzzFeed is going to rise above conventional media companies it’ll have to ditch its associations with listicles anyway. But here’s a thought for the meantime: indulging in a listicle is great, every now and then, so long as it doesn’t replace an ability to read and write insightful, challenging and cutting-edge debates that don’t start every new point with a number. Call me a traditionalist, but I like to dream that the light-hearted side of the digital shift can move forward without casting a shadow on our good-old friend, quality.

Ten ways to get into journalism this summer

5 Jul

One of the best ways to boost employability as a student is to use the summer weeks wisely. While soaking in the sounds of Glastonbury and working at an elephant reserve in Thailand may be beneficial to one’s holistic self-development in one way or another, gaining work experience in the field of media and journalism is the best way to boost a CV. Here are ten useful ways that students looking to get their foot in the door of media and journalism can get started:

Start a blog

Writing and managing a blog is an invaluable way to demonstrate your capacity for excelling in the journalistic world. Not only does it demonstrate self-motivation and the ability to work independently, it’s a cathartic way to showcase and develop your writing skills. It’s also great to try and pick a specialisation or a theme, like student life, fashion, or food, for example, as it helps people to remember your blog, gives you a writing focus and stops it from becoming a narcissistic narration of your daily life.

Get social media savvy

Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram- use whatever channel you can to publicise your blog, your employment profile or simply your thoughts about current affairs. Twitter is an especially vital tool for aspiring journalists, as following and tagging the right people in your Tweets is a great way to find stories and get your work seen, heard and re-tweeted. Start by following your favourite newspapers, magazines, authors, politicians and key journalism groups like News Associates, Journalism.co.uk and Women in Journalism to name a few.

Read everything

Reading the news every day is like providing journalists with oxygen. The only way that you’ll stay ahead of the game and find the most original news first is if you know what’s out there and what’s going on already. Getting a feeling for the political orientation of broadsheet newspapers is also key, as a common question in journalistic job interviews is ‘What is your favourite newspaper and why?’ Potential employers will want to know that you know what’s going on in the world- and have an opinion about it. Screen Shot 2014-06-13 at 11.21.25

Work experience at your local paper

If you’ve never had journalistic work experience before, one of the best places to start is by contacting your local newspaper or news publication to ask for work experience. Brush up your CV, write a stock introduction you can send to multiple offices and then phone around. Journalists working on tight deadlines hardly ever respond to general enquiry emails, but phoning offices and asking for editorial work experience shows that you’re bold, articulate and unafraid to sell yourself. They’ll most likely ask for a brief introduction over the phone and to follow it up with an email and CV, which you’ll already have to hand. viewpointsheader

Take what you can get

A newspaper might offer you two weeks, one week, an afternoon, or nothing. Never give up. If work experience isn’t an option, ask if you can come in for a quick chat about careers, as it will be a great opportunity to form a valuable contact and create a lasting impression for future opportunities. If you can’t get a meeting, move on to the next newspaper office, magazine or website. Having the motivation to carry on when you don’t get opportunities first time is just another way of developing the nous and initiative that all journalists need.

Join a volunteering group

If you have a particular area of interest that you dream of writing about in the future- whether it’s women’s rights, human rights, poverty relief or politics, join a volunteering group or committee related to that topic and introduce yourself as a freelance journalist looking to write and publish on behalf of the group. It’s a great way to refine writing about a cause that you’re passionate about and to demonstrate that you can prove to be reliable, organised and creative in a professional setting. Local examples of volunteering groups include Stop The Traffik Liverpool, SARSVL (Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds) and Leeds City Council Libraries.

Travel Writing

For those of you that do go volunteering on an elephant reserve in Thailand, come home and write about it. Post it on your blog, then Tweet about it. Or for those of you yet to depart on exciting trips, try contacting travel companies and travel magazines in advance to see if they would like an entry about your destination. I established a contact via email at Trek America before I travelled the American West Coast on their Westerner 2 tour, and my travel writing is now featured on their website. Another great travel magazine is Verge (@VergeMagazine) who look for longstanding writing deals with people who are working, studying or volunteering abroad. They ask writers for a short bio, a photo and an introductory post for review, and if successful they’ll want a number of posts before, during and after your time abroad. Whatever you do- just make sure that you keep travel writing unpublished on your own blog before you send it to anyone else, as most publications will not accept recycled or used material. DSC02810

NCTJ workshops

Gaining an NCTJ qualification for aspiring journalists is like getting a PGCE for aspiring teachers. If you’re currently studying A Levels or an undergraduate degree, enrolling for your Multimedia Journalism Diploma may just be the next step. It teaches you key modules such as public affairs, media law, court reporting and learning shorthand. The UK’s top journalism school for earning journalism qualifications is News Associates (@NewsAssociates), who have offices based in Manchester and London. They hold one-day workshops over the Summer in both of these locations- try contacting them through the email addresses provided on their website for availability.

Think outside the box and stay creative

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Some of the best ideas are the ones that seem crazy at first. If you have strong experience blogging about student life or higher education, why not contact your old high school and ask if you can give presentations to students about what it’s like in the field? Or if you have a particular subject you think needs to be shouted about, then why not start a magazine at your university? Playing to your strengths and following those crazy ideas with action is the best way to differentiate yourself and stand out from the crowd. 999819_743861552311694_607540598_n

Plan ahead for September

If you’re having no luck getting work experience for the Summer time, another way to use your time wisely is to prepare for September. Whether that means building up your blogging portfolio to wow the newspaper committee, submitting an application for a term-time internship or researching elective modules that relate to journalistic interests, it will help get the wheels turning. A great opportunity going at the moment is with Student Beans (@studentbeans). They’re currently looking to establish local editors in universities (including Leeds) to set their own editorial agenda including news, features and opinion pieces. Find out more here: http://thebeansgroup.theresumator.com/apply/m20DI8/Local-Student-Beans-Editors.html

Alternatively, check out this elective module for Leeds Students called ‘The Digital Professional’, which aims to combine digital literacy with employability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLKKe8KFJI4

Reflections on a year abroad

23 Apr

It’s with great sadness that I’m writing my last column for The Daily Gamecock.

Before I departed for South Carolina last August, I was asked to write an article describing my feelings about the year ahead. I called my piece ‘Great Expectations’, and listed all of the weird and wonderful things I wanted to see and do while studying abroad.ImageWhile my year as an honorary Gamecock has fulfilled the aspirations of my bucket list twice over, it’s the lessons I’ve learned within myself that have been truly life-affirming.

There are two things that I’ve discovered in the mighty Palmetto state, for which I’m forever grateful. The first is my vocation as a writer. Writing viewpoints columns throughout the year has not just been life changing because it’s transformed my resume, but it’s been life changing because it’s transformed me as an individual.

Part of the job description as a viewpoints columnist is to stay in the know about local and national news and events. As a small fish in a very big pond, engaging with my host country in this manner has been an essential way to connect with the world outside when everything around me felt unfamiliar.ImageForming my own opinions about my new surroundings has taught me to be my own person, to know myself, and to know where I stand. At many points during the year, writing has been a lifeline- the only thing that felt like concrete under my feet when everything else was like sand running through my fingers. In one year, writing opinion pieces has taught me more about life and about myself than all my years in school and university put together.

The second thing I’m eternally grateful for is a feminist enlightenment. To me, feminism the very simple belief that women and men are equal human beings who deserve equal rights.

Taking women’s self-defense classes has taught me that I don’t have to rely on anyone else to defend myself in the world. I have the right to defend myself, but what’s more is the inner belief that I’m worth defending.

Before I moved to South Carolina, these were beliefs that I held close to my heart. Thanks to my feminist awakening, they’re now part of a living reality than runs through my veins.

But what I’ve come to realise while reflecting on my year, is that these two facets of studying abroad are seamless. The year has not transformed me as a writer or as a feminist, but as both.

Renaissance poet Sir Philip Sidney once ended a sonnet with the words: “Look in thy heart and write.” Writing is not simply about using imitation and sophistry to come up with something entertaining to say. It’s about being in touch with what’s in your heart and sharing that on paper. As a woman and as a writer, never have I felt stronger than when realising that people are listening, and that they value what I have to say. Writing is my empowerment.

Becoming a columnist has allowed me to create my own space in the world and believe in my entitlement to that space. It’s my right as a woman to the freedom of expression, to the freedom of speech and to the rights of the first amendment. It’s my right to write.

In ‘A Room of One’s Own’, Virginia Woolf once said, ““Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.” Thanks to my foremothers who fought tirelessly for women’s rights, I’ve been able to explore the freedom of my mind at the same time as exploring the world.

I’ve always believed in the saying that, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel, read only a page.” My Appalachian adventure in writing has given me ‘A Room Of My Own’, a room in which I’ve started chapter one of that book, and I can’t wait to see where the rest of it takes me. Image

“Freedom is blogging in your underwear”

21 Mar

During Spring Break, I took the opportunity to visit one of the most historic and political destinations in the USA. I bypassed the alluring Florida sunshine in favour of a cultural stay in Washington DC.

As a history student, walking around such a legendary place brought some of my favourite parts of the past to life, landmark by stunning landmark. ImageMuch to my surprise, the place I visited that moved me the most was not the Lincoln memorial or the White house, but the gargantuan, seven-level interactive museum on Pennsylvania Avenue. What can only be described as the ultimate mothership of news and journalism history, ‘Newseum’ reminded me of all the reasons why I want to pursue a career in journalism. It educated me, tested me, and I left after five hours- feeling exhausted- but totally inspired.Image

The museum is home to real sections of the Berlin Wall and evocative remains of the World Trade Center. It has an open terrace with stunning, unobstructed views of the Capitol building, and a 4D theatre that takes audiences on a journey through some of the most groundbreaking investigative reporting stories of all time. The infamous Anchorman Exhibition features props and costumes from the 2004 film and the interactive galleries challenge visitors to create a front page, present a news story in front of the camera and decide upon some of the most controversial reporting decisions in history.ImageYet the reason I found Newseum so incredible was not because of its endless, expansive and informative galleries, but because the entire spectacle was in effect, a moving tribute to the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The First Amendment prohibits the making of laws that breach freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, the right to petition and the right to peaceful protest. Newseum’s devotion to these rights is made clear before visitors even walk through the door, as the words of the amendment are carved into the building itself, next to an enormous banner that reads ‘NEWSEUM CELEBRATES FREEDOM.’

Having studied various aspects of American history during my year abroad, I have learned predominantly about the 13th, 14th, 15th and 19th amendments that infamously opened the gates of democracy to millions of citizens on the grounds of race and gender. Much less attention has been paid to the importance of the first amendment, which in the modern Western world, can be taken for granted on a daily basis.

As I walked around Newseum, I came across a world map that displayed the proportion of countries that practice the right to free press, those that are partially free, and those that are completely censored. I was immediately struck by the utter mass of countries labeled by the colours red and yellow, as opposed to Western territories that were depicted in democratic green. In the split second it took to cast my eyes over this map, I was reminded how comparatively lucky the Western world is to have the right to free press.ImageIn light of recent global news, affecting testimonies to such rights could not be more topical. The Pussy Riot protests at Sochi, North Korea’s Crimes Against Humanity Report, ongoing turmoil in Syria and Russia’s dark assault against Ukraine show us how even in 2014, natural human rights are being engulfed by wicked tyranny.

Not only are millions of people in the East subject to violence and oppression each day, but the right of their countries to freely communicate about such disasters is censored.

By sharp contrast, I looked around the gift shop later on and smiled at a fridge magnet that read ‘Freedom is blogging in your underwear.’ Having the right to express myself freely through my blog and through newspaper columns is part of my identity. It gives me a voice, and a way to interact with the world. I could not imagine living in a country that did not grant me this right- something I have grown up with and never had to consider being eliminated.

Deciding what makes a story newsworthy must be judged by the concern of social urgency, human rights and democracy. Until censorship has been eliminated, journalists working with the right to free press must celebrate, relish and utilise the tenets of the first amendment in order to spread awareness of people whose natural human rights continue to be repressed by despotism.


Southport’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club: Review

15 Jul

Sat in a backstage dressing room at Southport’s Atkinson Theatre, Damion Larkin, the organiser and host for Southport’s Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club sits across from me.
Thirty minutes before the show was due to begin on Saturday, I caught Damion for an interview about the club, himself, and all things comedy.
”I put on the best comedians available and make sure there’s variety between the acts.
I carefully prepare each show for weeks in advance, making sure the acts are different whether it’s where they’re from, what they look like, their material and their energy levels,” he enthused.
Determined to showcase high quality comedians, Damion explained why he gives each line-up such close attention: “Many comedy clubs only have one headliner, but I like to have two with one up-and-coming act in between.
It’s all about word of mouth and the best way to achieve that is by having a top quality show- if it’s brilliant, people will talk about it.”
Laugh Out Loud is Southport’s longest running comedy club beginning over six years ago, having run at various local venues and is now in its third month at the Atkinson.
Damion told me about how his career in comedy evolved: “I probably should have phased out the old job and phased in the comedy a bit more.
After ten years as a stockbroker I had a change of heart and decided I wanted to be a comedian.
I picked up gigs and lived off the fruit of my labour for a while- now I’ve been a comedian for eight years, six of which I’ve run the club.”
Heralded by the BBC as ‘one of the country’s top new comedians’ it’s safe to say that Damion’s career move has been successful.
Beginning the show with spontaneous wit, Damion warmed up the audience for what was a night of hearty laughter and entertainment.
We were made to feel truly part of the show with active conversation, and he had us clapping our hands, stamping our feet and giggling the whole way through.
His first guest, Mick Ferry, who has previously appeared on Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow came on stage with a mixture of prepared material and improvised banter.
Mick had us hooked from the start with hilarious anecdotes from his life as a family man and his straight-talking, dry sense of humour left us struggling to breathe amongst the laughs.
Big Lou, a comedian making waves on the comedy circuit appeared next with fast-paced and sophisticated one-liners and puns.
He truly won us over with what we thought was going to be a guitar performance, to surprise us with a charming and creative act with his guitar case.
Already impressed with the variety and quality of acts as promised by Damion, I sat back in my seat to see award-winning TV and radio regular Rob Deering take to the stage.
The highlight of the evening, Rob performed an innovative, unique and hilarious set as he fused impressive guitar skills with a loop pedal and a whole lot of cracking jokes.
Rob, who appeared to have inherently funny bones ended the show on an ultimate high and left the audience enthusing as we left the theatre.
The evening had regular intervals between each act to head to the bar and chat amongst friends. As a night-owl, I found the evening was a refreshing alternative to ‘pre-drinks’ on a Saturday night.
Having watched my first ever live comedy show I can safely say I’m glad it was at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club.
The only problem is, it’s set the standards pretty high as Damion, Mick, Big Lou and Rob left succeeding guests at the Atkinson with a tough act to follow.
The Comedy Club runs every first Saturday of the month with the next show on August 3 at 8.00pm.
Advance tickets are £12.50 and £15.00 on the door.
To buy tickets, call the box office on 01704 533333


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