In Scandinavia, one of this year’s most talked about and controversial media «innovations» has been the surge in new sites copying key aspects of Buzzfeed’s self-dubbed «art of social publishing».
This week Nieman Journalism Lab has an interesting piece on how this trend, traditional newspaper companies starting competing Buzzfeed imitators, has been playing out in Sweden. But the same is true for Norway, and on a smaller scale Denmark – though the players differ.
In Norway, the media market I know best, Amedia-owned regional newspaper Nordlys has been leading the pack with the launch of Buzzit.no in June – followed by NHST Media Group-owned financial daily DN.no’s Bisbuzz.no and Egmont’s Superlike. In Denmark we’ve seen sites like Egmont’s tickl.dk / superlike.dk.
Why? According to Anders Opdahl, Buzzit-boss and editor-in-chief of Nordlys, «Desperate times breeds desperate measures».
At a meeting of the Norwegian Online News Association (NONA), which I’ve blogged about in Norwegian here and Kampanje has written a good summary of here, he explained:
“The backdrop for the Buzzit launch was, to be completely honest, the dramatic fall in print revenues. We were not able to fit skilled digital employees into the budget for 2015. We had to cut costs and do this based on the seniority principle, and we could not defend keeping these young people. Incidentally, this happened just when the New York Times Innovation report was leaked - on BuzzFeed.”
So Buzzit.no was launched as a new, separate organisation and site with the intention of trying out a new form of distribution for journalism. The site has a staff of six: five journalists working shifts and one business developer.
Opdahl said the current focus of the site is on building position and distribution, though it is a long-term ambition to be able to also do investigative journalism once the site has built enough traffic. Like Buzzfeed, Buzzit is primarily a mobile site, not a desktop site - very little of the site’s traffic comes from desktop. When Buzzit started out, a lot of its content was stories taken from Amedia’s many regional newspapers and subbed or “optimised” for social media.
A key aspect of the site’s ambition is about understanding how social media works: How does one maximize organic proliferation, what role does segmentation and fragmentation play?
And though the site has been far from immune to controversies similar to those affecting Buzzfeed, with accusations of plagiarism, copy theft etc, it has obviously not stopped other Norwegian media companies from launching similar sites.
I must admit I feel a bit depressed to see these sites lauded as major new media innovations, or to suggest, as I do in the title, that this media year could be dubbed the year of Buzzfeed copycats. But two points made towards the end of the above-mentioned NONA-meeting, bears repeating here:
«These sites have innovated the distribution model in a way many can learn from, but it is not a good thing for everyone to copy it for that reason. What we really need is innovation on the business- and revenue side of the media industry, where there really is a crisis. This “social publishing innovation” is a microscopic innovation and microscopic progress,” said Arne Krumsvik, a former media executive turned media academic (and my comrade-in-arms building NONA in its early days).
«In the same way that Buzzit is moving towards more traditional formats, the more traditional media is moving towards Buzzit. Social media skills must be increased, social media is important in the same way as newspaper distribution used to be important before,» said media columnist Sven Egil Omdal.
Update 15.02.2015: Schibsted-owned VG joined the fray and launched Tldr.no a few days after this post was written. More about the launch here (in Norwegian)