Sorting the Serious From the Silly, BuzzFeed Develops a Mobile App for Real News

Not Likely to Be Featured: '21 Office Printers That Are Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis'

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BuzzFeed's current mobile app.
BuzzFeed's current mobile app.

BuzzFeed is known for publishing highly shareable lists and quizzes, but the viral publisher is now developing an app to highlight its more serious reported news stories.

The company already has an app that offers a mishmash of its content. Although it lets users select subjects of particular interest, the app's general feed on Wednesday afternoon included the headlines "21 Office Printers That Are Going Through a Mid-Life Crisis" and "Life In Your Twenties Vs. Life After The Hostile Alien Takeover." BuzzFeed's forthcoming, second app will focus only on serious news, according to Ben Smith, editor in chief of BuzzFeed.

The company is in the "embryonic stage" of building the app and is looking for a journalist to lead the effort, Mr. Smith said. "It's going to be one of the most fun jobs in journalism," he said of the position. "It's creating something from scratch."

The company plans to hire six "around the clock" editorial staffers to run the news app, according to a job listing on the BuzzFeed site. There's no time frame as to when the app will roll out.

BuzzFeed gets the bulk of its traffic from mobile devices. In June, it attracted nearly 75 million unique visitors across desktop and mobile, with 53 million coming from mobile devices, according to ComScore. The site's overall traffic has more than doubled compared with last June; mobile traffic has more than tripled.

Publishers of all stripes are seeing a similar pattern among their readers, who are consuming increasing amounts of digital content on mobile devices. It's created a measure of concern because those visitors are harder to make money from: Mobile ads usually don't fetch the same rates as desktop or print ads.

One way to confront this challenge is to sell so-called native ads, which mimic the editorial content surrounding them and fit into the flow of content. Publishers can charge more for these ads than standard display. In fact, they are a key component of The New York Times' news apps.

BuzzFeed is, of course, a pioneer in native advertising, which comprise the entirety of its ad revenue. And Mr. Smith said it's likely that the news app would follow this lead and also include native ads. "There won't be any weird banner ads," he said.

Mr. Smith also cited The New York Times' NYT Now app, which offers a selection of Times headlines, as inspiration for BuzzFeed's news app, as well as the Yahoo News Digest app.

Most of BuzzFeed's traffic stems from highly shareable content like lists and quizzes, but it has made an effort to develop a news division, hiring Mr. Smith from Politico in 2011 to act as editor in chief. The company has since hired a number of top journalists, including Chris Hamby, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist.

But efforts to bolster the site's journalistic credibility faced a setback last week when several Twitter users discovered that Benny Johnson, BuzzFeed's viral politics editor, had plagiarized from sources including U.S. News & World Report and Wikipedia. Mr. Johnson was dismissed after an internal review uncovered 41 instances of sentences or phrases from his work that were "copied word for word from other sites," Mr. Smith said in an apology to readers.

"BuzzFeed started seven years ago as a laboratory for content," Mr. Smith wrote. "Our writers didn't have journalistic backgrounds and weren't held to traditional journalistic standards, because we weren't doing journalism. But that started changing a long time ago."

"On the journalistic side," he added, "we have scores of aggressive reporters around the United States and the world, holding the people we cover to high standards. We must -- and we will -- hold ourselves to the same high standards."

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