BuzzFeed is riding high. The viral news site, which cuts its teeth on silly cat videos, is now part of the media big leagues where it breaks serious stories, like US journalists taking money from foreign governments, alongside the likes of CNN and the New York Times. And unlike many of its old-media counterparts, BuzzFeed is profitable and growing fast.
Success, however, is leading media pundits to look harder at BuzzFeed’s editorial contradictions — like mixing puppy stories with Putin — and ask how long it can keep this up without damaging its brand. In the last month, the question has become more pressing as partisans in the abortion and health care debates use BuzzFeed-themed pages to push controversial political messages through social media.
In response, BuzzFeed on Wednesday put out guidelines for the first time to explain what sort of webpages can be made with its platform tools, which let anyone to create and publish their own BuzzFeed story. The new policy is, on one level, a logical response to a swelling number of community submissions. But on a deeper level, it reflects how BuzzFeed, as it grows in clout, is having to define its editorial voice and develop a political and ethical identity.