BuzzFeed Showcases Its Serious Side With A News App And Customizable Alerts

Are you the kind of person who says, “I read BuzzFeed for the news”? Do you secretly wish you didn’t have to wade through all those listsicles and quizzes to get to the serious reporting? Well, BuzzFeed’s releasing an app just for you.

The company is launching an iOS app called BuzzFeed News, and at first glance, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. Unlike the main app, which offers the full range of BuzzFeed content, or even sillier apps like Cute or Not, BuzzFeed News presents a feed of more serious, news-y stories.

But there are touches that make this more than a simple repackaging of BuzzFeed’s journalistic side. For one thing, the feed isn’t just the usual combination of headlines and photos — there are also embedded tweets, pull quotes, related stories, bullet point summaries and timelines that give broader context to the news.

Not all the stories come from BuzzFeed itself — when I opened the app this morning, there was at least one link to The New York Times. And if you want to keep up on news even after you’ve put your phone away, you can set up push alerts. The menu includes obvious choices like World and US News, but also a more specific option, namely the FIFA corruption scandal, and I can imagine more categories in that vein.

News Apps Editor Stacy-Marie Ishmael joined BuzzFeed last fall, and she told me she was lured over from the Financial Times (where she was vice president of communities) partly by BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti’s commitment to “a distributed strategy.”

Now, when BuzzFeed and other companies talk about distributed, that’s usually equated with pushing stories to social media. But in Ishmael’s view, that’s only part of it.

BuzzFeed News summary

“Distributed is often talked about as sending your audience away from you,” she said. “The way I’ve thought about it is, you’re going to where your audiences are. … If stuff is already built, let’s hang out. If it isn’t built yet, we’ll build it and throw a really good party.”

So from that perspective, launching a native iOS app is as much a part of that strategy as creating Facebook-specific videos.

Ishmael added that while some news organizations (including the FT) are moving away from standalone apps, the native approach still offers capabilities that you can’t get anywhere else — like those personalized notifications, which Ishmael said her team can approach in a “more granular” way, creating new alert categories as required.

Of course, there have to be enough stories to justify those categories: “There’s no point in creating expectations you’re not going to fulfill.” That’s one reason why it’s important for Ishmael’s team to work closely with the BuzzFeed writers and editors actually reporting on the news.

“Our team sits next to the breaking news team,” she said.

Ishmael also noted that everyone on the app’s editorial staff has published stories on BuzzFeed — but their focus now is on curating the news in the app and on creating the timelines, summaries and other extra content.

There will be a BuzzFeed News app for Android later this year, she said, and it won’t just be a straight conversion of the iOS version, but will also include platform-specific features.