Why Buzzfeed is dumbing up - RSA

Why Buzzfeed is dumbing up


  • Enterprise
  • Institutional reform

People who write about policy and politics tend to write blogs like this. It is text heavy, takes time to read and stretches its audience. What if there was a way of communicating policy and politics without inducing a bad case of mental strain on the audience?

Earlier today, The Economist’s Daniel Knowles posted a Buzzfeed article on the insanity of our housing market policy. It doesn’t look like this piece. It's full of graphs, animated GIFs, and images.

It’s visually engaging but more importantly, it really communicates the policy issue in a clear fashion. Basically, we’ve made new house building incredibly expensive and difficult. We are paying the price as a consequence: economic inefficiency, house price bubbles, financial risk, personal risk, social division, the diminution of choice and curtailed opportunity. The point it most effectively makes is that these are policy *choices*.

But there’s something disruptive about this approach – in a good way. It meets readers on their terms. It is about them and what they are looking for rather than about what the author personally responds to. This policy analysis is on a site that specialises in lists of cool stuff and humour. A few weeks ago they dissected the anatomy of a Twitter storm (like a real storm but without the train cancellations). The Pricehound Buzzfeed is omg (yes, I am doing that slightly annoying mimicry thing).

Policy makers are very used to telling people that they should care about the things that matter to them and doing it for them when they are not. Maybe there needs to be some thought about how to bring more people into the policy conversation. There could be a political dividend from this but, more importantly, a democratic dividend. A visual language instead of a dense textual language could make politics seem relevant.

Is this dumbing down? Well, no, I don’t believe it is. If you read Knowles’s article, it has much more information in it than the average broadsheet oped. If anything, it’s dumbing up.

And it is being actively engaged with. I had a look at some of the leading Opeds from this morning’s papers. They tend to get a handful of Facebook likes. A piece on housing that is just as well researched/argued on another site has 31 Twitter likes and 3 Facebook  ‘shares’. The Knowles piece has had over 16,000 views so far today and 618 Facebook ‘likes’ (admittedly different to a ‘share’) and 417 tweets. He’s also had two ‘blimeys’ and two ‘hmms’ too (a Buzzfeed thing).

Buzzfeed has already expanded into original political reporting and has recently hired a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist. Its expansion knows no bounds.

Communicating policy in an engaging manner is hard. The process of research, analysis, drafting, and producing workable solutions is exhausting. Maybe a little more time needs to be devoted to engagement too. It’s about more than pushing things out through papers and Twitter. Really compelling use of video, data, and storytelling is helpful too. I might try it one day.

Mad men

(from Giphy http://giphy.com/ )

Anthony Painter is Director, Independent review of the Police Federation. His new book ‘Left without a future? Social Justice in Anxious Times’ is now available.

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