Opinion: ‘BuzzFeed speak’ leads the media agenda

Traditional media reporting has taken its lead from social media and ‘BuzzFeed speak’ this summer, notes Howard Bowden, media trainer and co-founder of Generation. He explains how this trend will affect media relations.

Howard Bowden 1

Howard Bowden

“No such thing as an old story, no such thing as a new story.” It’s a great quote – from ex-Metro editor Kenny Campbell – and I’ve been starting my media training sessions with it.

It’s a reminder that pretty much every news story has already been done, which is a good starting point for any media relations activity.

But, while stories remain the same, the style in which they are reported changes over time as journalistic nuances, reportage styles and media platforms develop.

Three years ago, Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC technology correspondent, identified BuzzFeed as ‘the death/saviour of news’ – and in recent weeks it feels like the inevitable merging of traditional media reporting styles with both social media speak and BuzzFeed-type nuances has accelerated dramatically.

When The Sun tweeted a recent story about a man who tried swapping his partner for a festival ticket, the tweet began ‘Seriously, WTF?’ – which, unlike a traditional headline, has no reference to the story, and is simply there to encourage click-through:

A few weeks later, The Sun ran a story about a bullied schoolgirl who became a beauty queen, with a tweet which began ‘Wow!’. Just, wow. You could argue that the same word should be at the start of every headline (‘Wow! Junior doctors to go on strike’, ‘Wow! The nationals are now using unrelated exclamations in headlines’, etc.):

Meanwhile, the BBC has recently broken not one, but two, traditional rules of journalism with its daily ‘3 things we love today’ section on the homepage. In theory, you should always write numbers below ‘10’ as words and always spell out any number when it starts a sentence.

BBC headlines have also undergone a BuzzFeed-style makeover. In my 12 Commandments of Writing A Press Release training session, I ask people to guess from where I’ve taken a selection of headlines, and no-one (yet) has identified that ‘Internet has freaked over Harry Styles hair cut’ was a BBC headline earlier this year.

What of BuzzFeed itself?

Recent stories Tweeted, at the time of writing, range from ‘Here’s what happened when we tested 5 Pinterest nail-drying hacks’ to ‘These women posted vacations on Insta (sic) before their huge $30 million coke bust’, both of which feel pretty mainstream media in 2016. Although, surely, it will take a while before good old fashioned Anglo-Saxon swear words make it into media headlines:

So, should we be putting press releases through a BuzzFeed filter, adding WTFs, Wows and four-letter words before selling-in to the media?

No. Not yet, anyway. The key is always to demonstrate to a journalist that you understand their world – so give them stories about Life Hacks, create content around people (the best stories are about people, right?) doing stuff on social media which your client can own, and feel free to put a (single) word in capitals in your headline, even if you’re going after the broadsheets. It’s how news works in 2016.

The bottom line for media relations: copy, and steal ideas from, whatever media you’re going after – and if it’s the nationals, read the papers daily, whether it’s hard copies, online or on Twitter. You don’t already? Seriously, WTF?

  • Howard Bowden is a freelance media trainer and co-founder of Generation. His career has included content roles at 3 Monkeys and Clarion and senior PR roles for Vue and Walt Disney.
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