Last night, NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute hosted a panel titled, “What in the World Are BuzzFeed, Mashable, and VICE News up to As They Expand Their International Coverage?”. The panelists were Miriam Elder, foreign editor at BuzzFeed, Jason Mojica, EIC of VICE News, and Louise Roug, global news editor at Mashable.
The purpose of the panel was to learn more from the editors about why these three outlets have established and exponentially expanded their international coverage; how they staff their global news desks; how they manage the finances for their respective outlets and divisions; and what we can expect from them in the near future.
The theme was tantalizing, especially for those of us, including myself, who cover beats beyond the borders of the U.S., but I suspect many audience members walked away feeling as disappointed as I did. There was lots of talk, but little substance, lots of claims of “We’re transparent!” without actually being transparent in responses. There were lots of issues that weren’t addressed at all; one of the most troubling lacunae in the conversation was a discussion about fact-checking processes.
If you were following along on my twitter feed, you might have sensed my disgruntlement:
If you are curious about what was said by the panelists themselves, read on for a few bullet points of the conversation. These are paraphrased remarks, as I did not record the panel.
-BuzzFeed is about to double its staff on global coverage, opening new international bureaus.
-VICE News’ focus now is on “sustaining coverage”
-General feeling among eds regarding hiring freelancers for international coverage is: proceed with caution. All three editors talked about the importance of having a solid, trusting relationship with a freelancer before even considering an international assignment. Mashable’s ed says, “Would I send a freelancer to Syria? No f&*(^#$ way.” There are issues of insurance, adequate salary, and more. BuzzFeed ed says, “We aren’t working with freelancers; we’re staffing desks.”
-Mashable isn’t growing at the same rate as BuzzFeed with respect to international expansion, but it IS opening Australian and London offices.
-VICE News’ strategy is “careful but rapid growth.”
-Average age of global news staff at BuzzFeed is 33.
-Elements of media: storytelling and distribution. What’s the best way to tell this story?
-Moderator raised issue of credibility and trust: How can your intent and execution of “serious journalism” actually be considered if it’s posted alongside dancing Russian cat videos and doctored Putin photos?
-BuzzFeed ed’s answer to that question: I view BuzzFeed like a TV channel. Running “The Simpsons” doesn’t call the credibility of the evening newscast into question.
BuzzFeed: Most of our traffic comes from social, not from landing on the home page. “There is no page 1.”
-Mashable’s global news coverage led the site’s traffic in July and August 2014.
-BuzzFeed has metrics that allow eds to see how much of an article a viewer has read.
-VICE provides insurance and hostile situation training for vetted reelancers.
-Mashable ed, who formerly worked for LA Times and spent nearly three years in its Iraq bureau, said that bureau cost the paper one million dollars annually… “and that wasn’t counting salaries.”
-VICE News: “Our approach is to immerse ourselves in a story without judgment.” (Referring, specifically, to an audience member’s criticism about recent ISIS video on the site).
-How do you keep overhead low without using freelancers? (Audience question): Stay lean. Cut overhead. “Don’t stay at the Ritz.” The old school model of the bureau chief and staffers living in a large flat in Paris with their two kids going to the local American school… yeah, that’s passé. Don’t spend money on that so you can spend money instead on what’s important: travel and reporting.