The Reinvention of Buzzfeed: What Does It Means For The Future of Digital Journalism?

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            Thanks to social media and the rapid circulation of viral content, readers can easily become overwhelmed. The constant bombardment of information that seems to be coming at them from all directions can be disorienting. It becomes difficult to chose which sources are most reliable. Buzzfeed, a website which posts dozens of new stories every day, would seemingly suffer because of this. However, despite the quantity of content being pushed on their site, it has become a media sensation thanks to their unique approach of sharing information.

            The launch of Buzzfeed in 2006 was orchestrated by a then-thirty-two-year-old Jonah Peretti, formally of the Huffington Post. He and his team aimed to create a site that would get the news across in a manner that was both succinct and attention grabbing. In an interview with Pando, Peretti summed up Buzzfeed’s view of to-the-point coverage: “You can explain it in one sentence and get a little bit of a laugh in one sentence.”

            By gaining traction early on Buzzfeed was able to secure large investments from credible investors such as Hearst Ventures. The company was declared to be officially profitable within eighty-seven weeks of its inception– an impressive timeframe within the new media landscape. Just over a year later Buzzfeed claimed its one-billionth view.

Morgan Von Steen, a Buzzfeed contributor, explains why she believes the site has remained a sensation from the start. “BuzzFeed was able tap into the need for innovation of how news was being presented on the Internet,” she says. “They reacted to the changing context of breaking news within the world of Twitter and other sources of instant information. They were the first to incorporate gifs and memes within their stories which resulted in the action of people sharing these stories with their online friends and followers to create viral content.”

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Morgan Von Steen, Buzzfeed Contributor

The Buzzfeed format has been adopted by a number of other mainstream media outlets. In an interview with Fortune, Peretti described how many newspapers looked to the Buzzfeed style when trying to expand their reach in the digital community.

Despite their virtual success, BuzzFeed has answered to the critics by continuously trying to reinvent itself by adding credibility to their team. Critics commonly remark on their lack of originality. Gawker, one of Buzzfeed’s main competitors, exposed one of their staffers for plagiarism. This led to a lot of bad publicity and the removal of forty different articles that had been published by this writer.

Since then BuzzFeed has made an effort to hire a number of acclaimed journalists to earn more credibility. Recent additions to the team include Ben Smith, formerly of The New York Observer, as Editor-In-Chief, and Heidi Blake of The Sunday Times, to lead their new investigative journalism department.

“Buzzfeed has become very powerful in terms of hits over the past few years,” says Von Steen. “But before they can really compete with big titles such as The New York Times or The Washington Post, they have to build up their reputation. The goal now is to be seen as a trustworthy and fast-acting news source without loosing their core audience. It’s about striking the right balance between viral videos, entertainment, and real news.”

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Why Can’t Women Be Taken Seriously In Hollywood?

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            While gender inequality has long been a hot topic in Hollywood, the issue is most prominent when it comes to the red carpet.

While it’s customary for both actors and actresses to be asked “who are you wearing?” the subject is usually dropped in favor of more serious questions for actors while their female counterparts are stuck answering countless queries about their outfit and hair choices.

What stars choose to wear at public appearances has been a popular subject of tabloids for decades. However, the focus escalated in 1994 when comedian Joan Rivers debuted an early version of Fashion Police, a TV special where she and a number of other D-list celebrities would make catty remarks about what actresses wore on the red carpet during awards season.

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Though demeaning, the show became a massive success thanks to Rivers’ humorous witticisms that audiences couldn’t get enough of. Since then countless other networks have jumped on board with their own versions of the show, often placing reporters on the carpet to interview the stars in real time. Entering the Academy Awards used to consist of a few short meters between your car and the door. This past Sunday at the 87th Academy Awards, the carpet is 500 feet long (153 meters) and packed with hundreds of journalists and photographers all ready to pose the same question: “Who are you wearing?”

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            Some of the maneuvers actresses have to go through include E! Networks’ Glam Cam, which consists of women standing on a tiny platform while a camera circles around them to give viewers a full 360° view. Another one of their gimmicks is the Mani Cam, a tiny runway constructed in front of a camera so that stars can walk their fingers down it to show off their nails and jewelry. Recently two A-list actresses, Julianne Moore and Reese Witherspoon, made headlines by refusing to take part in the Mani Cam at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. While neither actress made a direct statement about it, they’ve both spoken on behalf of the discrimination towards women in Hollywood over the course of their respective careers.

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            It’s no wonder that women have a hard time being taken seriously when all they are asked about with the color of their nails. It’s fair to be asked the name of the designer who made their dress once or twice, but do they have to dwell on it? What the industry needs is respected women who are willing to take a stand against conventional notions of being a female in Hollywood. While it’s harmless and fun to dress up for a big event, if they make their image the focus of their careers, then they will continue to be unfairly represented as more superficial then their male equivalents.

Birdman Wins The Oscars

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            At the 87th Academy Awards ceremony, which took place this past Sunday, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) stole the show. The film took home a total of four of this year’s most coveted honors, including the top prize for best picture.

Nearly every relevant actor/actress in Hollywood was in attendance, anxiously waiting to hear if their names would be called out. However, it soon became clear that if they hadn’t been involved with Birdman, they could practically forget about winning. Birdman, despite its megawatt cast which includes the likes of Michael Keaton, Edward Norton and Emma Stone, was a surprise hit at the awards circuit. The movie only made $37.8 million (about £24 million at current conversion) at the box office, a relatively meager amount compared to many of the other films nominated.

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the cast accepts the best picture award onstage

            The film, which focuses on a former celebrity who, having been rendered irrelevant over the years, tries to get back into the game by producing and staring in a Broadway play. Audiences see Riggan, Keaton’s character, struggle with his newfound reality as a washed-up actor who struggles to maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. Keaton’s casting is particularly significant as it plays into the reality of his own past. In interviews Keaton has discussed his constant frustration over people only focusing on his former role as Batman in the popular franchise, rather than any of the serious acting he has done in recent years.

            Apart from winning best picture, Birdman also took home the golden statues for best original screenplay, best cinematography, and best director, which was awarded to the film’s director Alejandro G. Inarriu.

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Alejandro G. Inarrju

While these wins were not entirely unexpected, the results caused backlash from fans who were angling for Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s indie film about growing up in America to win.

            Viewers were also quick to point out that three out of the past four best picture winners have centered on the inner workings of film industry. While this may be a coincidence, it’s worth pointing out that The Academy, those who decide on the winners, are all veterans of the film industry.

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Michael Keaton and Edward Norton, respectively, in a scene from the film

This subjectivity proves that they tend to go for what they know. While this isn’t necessarily a problem here, it’s also worth noting that the majority of voters are white men. If they continue to direct votes solely towards stories they can personally identify with it may lead to a longer and more problematic future of diversity issues.

Why Whiplash Deserves An Oscar.

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Whiplash, one of the eight films nominated for best picture at this year’s Academy Awards, is undoubtedly the underdog of the category. While the crew is talented and features a slew of semi-recognizable names, there isn’t much star power associated with the picture. This is only the second full-length film for the director, Damien Chiseller, who recently turned 30. All of these facts make it an unlikely contender to actually win the top prize, but I believe that it deserves to take home the most coveted award in the film industry.

The film focuses on the relationship between student and teacher: Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller), a 19-year-old freshman at the fictional, Julliard-esq, Schaffer Conservatory of Music in New York City, and Terrance Fletcher (JK Simmons), the leader of the school’s most prestigious jazz band. Andrew’s acceptance to the school makes it clear that he is talented, but his skills just don’t seem to be quite there yet. Fletcher discovers Andrew practicing his double time swing and decides that he has potential. Joining the band as an alternate, Andrew is able to observe Fletcher’s teaching techniques, watching as he torments a pudgy band member for being out of tune.

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Fletcher later explains his methods by telling a story about how the legendary jazz musician, Charlie “The Bird” Parker, didn’t became great until after Joe Jones threw a cymbal at his head, nearly decapitating him after he screwed up his solo. Rather than being beaten down by the humiliation, Charlie goes home and practices. A year later he gets back on stage and plays what Fletcher describes as “the best motherfucking solo the world has ever heard… if Jones had just said, ‘Well, that’s okay Charlie. That was alright. Good job.’ Then Charlie thinks to himself, ‘Well, shit. I did do a pretty good job.’ End of story, no Bird. That, to me, is an absolute tragedy.” If fletcher is on the lookout for the next Charlie Parker that would make him Jones, going on to say, “There are no two words in the English language more harmful than good job.’”

Since first seeing the film in October, I’ve become a bit obsessed with promoting the film to anyone who will listen: from friends to strangers I catch staring at the advertisements on public transportation. My deep personal connection to the film practically convinced me that I’d actually had some part in making it. When I would convince and accompany people to the theater, I’d feel proud at the end when they told me how much they inevitably enjoyed it. I would literally sit back and think, ‘Wow, I’m so glad you liked my movie.’

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            It might seem a bit odd that a 20-year-old fashion student would so intensely associate with a film that centers on drumming. However, this is really a story of extreme perseverance and determination. It will resonate with anyone who feels dedicated to a craft, whether that is music, athletics, or in my case, fashion.

It’s clear that Andrew’s determination to master the drums is so singular and direct that nothing else matters in his life. At first this seems to be a good thing as it leads to endless practicing, trying to better himself and prove his worthiness to Fletcher. But as the movie progresses, it becomes clear that this all-consuming devotion might be doing more harm than good. Andrew, who was not the friendliest guy to begin with, starts to withdraw from his (admittedly already small) circle of loved ones. Whenever he’s not on his drum set, or listening to “one of the greats” on his CD-player as he taps along to the beat, he just looks blank. When he is not drumming he is as empty as an addict without a fix. He no longer enjoys simple pleasures like spending time with family and friends. When Andrew brutally dumps his girlfriend, it’s because he thinks she is holding him back from his impending greatness.

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            Ok, I’ve never broken up with anyone over my passion for fashion, but I have certainly bypassed many teenage experiences in favor of working/trying to improve myself. The simple act of ‘hanging out’ with friends drives me mad. To me idle time is wasted time. If I feel that a day has been lost and I’ve done nothing to advance my fashion ambitions, I get stressed out. While I’m sure all of that can be analyzed as some kind of personality disorder, it feels more like a side effect of wanting, and sometimes needing, to achieve my career goals.

Of course, people react differently under various circumstances and while some may flourish under the constant pressure, others, like Sean Cassidy, a former Fletcher student, struggle. We learn Sean hung himself a few years out of Fletcher’s classroom. Because of this, the film can be extremely hard to watch at times. It may even bring up repressed memories of your own Fletcher… whether your version was a coach, a parent, or in extreme cases, your own voice. One particular promotional poster is an apt metaphor for the potential damage or success these intense methods bring. The advert, featuring Miles Teller balancing on the edge of a drumstick, leave you wondering if he is perched on the edge of greatness… or the edge of psychological collapse.

The physicality involved in playing drums is something I’d never thought of before. His intense training brings blistering and bleeding hands, and sweat-soaked shirts. Even as he alienates those around him and turns into a full-fledged jackass, he still gets audiences to feel for him. When he gets turned-down by the very girl he so harshly rejected months before, it’s hard not to feel bad for him. When he gets humiliated on one of the world’s most prestigious stages, he runs into the arms of his father, the only one who cares enough to come on his big night. You almost wish you were there to give him a hug and tell him that it’d all be okay.

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As you near the end of the film, the goal becomes hazy. Fletcher gets fired. Andrew gives up the drums. Without Fletcher’s traumatizing (but effective) methods, Andrew begins slipping towards mediocrity. Fletcher is reduced to small-time conducting and gigs at local bars. Although they would never admit it, they needed each other as incentive. Fletcher, the metaphoric Joe Jones of the story, thought he had found his own Charlie Parker in Andrew. Though things did not go as Fletcher initially intended, they both got what they wanted in the end.

As Teller appears in the final scene (on stage at Carnegie Hall with Fletcher conducting), something within him visibly sparks. This transfixing performance comes as a direct result of being pushed to his limits by Fletcher. Andrew’s magnificent crescendo is partially driven by a desire for personal revenge against his tormentor, but more than that, he is finally able to recognize his own capacity for greatness.

Whiplash offers a new way to approach life. Unlike any film before, it accurately represents the feeling of being driven mad by your own passions. It reminds us that though times may get tough, our endurance will ultimately be rewarded.

The Interview Gets Released In The U.K.

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Seth Rogan’s The Interview will be released in UK on February 6th after being banned from cinemas in America. Sony, the company behind the film, was forced to withdraw the film after they were hacked and threatened by anonymous sources widely believed to be part of the North Korean government.

            The film, which was written, directed and produced by Seth Rogan. The plot focuses on a producer and host of a popular talk show (played by Rogan and James Franco, respectively). When they find out that Kim Jon-un, the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, is a fan, they get the unprecedented opportunity to visit North Korea and feature him on their show. When the United States Government finds out, they coerce the two men into participating in a mission to kill Kim and bring down the establishment.

            Considering the highly regimented government that exists in North Korea, it’s no surprise that they were less than thrilled by the film. Additionally, the offensive portrayal of Kim erred on the side of mockery, which is all but a cardinal sin in their eyes.

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            The film was originally meant to come to cinemas in America on Christmas day. Ultimately Sony decided it wasn’t worth the risk of innocent viewers getting attacked- a threat that had been alluded to by the hackers should Sony have gone ahead with the planned release.

This caused a lot of controversy and public discussion about what the right decision. Even President Obama got involved, expressing his disappointment with Sony’s decision. ““We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like,” he said. “That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

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How North Korea will react to the film going ahead with release in the UK is yet to be seen. However, because Britain was not involved in the making of the film, hopefully they will be more lenient on the matter. In any case, be aware of your surroundings should you see the film this week.

Who You Gonna Call? Women!

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            The casting for the upcoming Ghostbusters reboot has caused controversy among the franchises’ original fans. The remake, which was announced a few months ago via Twitter, will be directed by Bridesmaids director Paul Feig and is set to feature an all-female ensemble.

            The Saturday Night Live-heavy group features current SNL cast members Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as well as former hosts Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy. According to Feig the film will be released summer 2016, just over thirty years after the first film of the series hit theaters.

The original franchise, which was directed by Ivan Reitman, started Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Akroyd, and Ernie Hudson. Plans were in place to shoot a third installment with the same cast, but sadly Ramis passed away before filming began.

            The main point of contempt surrounding the casting choices is the belief that Hollywood is trying too hard to pander to gender and diversity groups. Not only are all of the actors women, but there is also a range of ethnicity and sexuality diversification amidst them thanks to Jones’ African-American heritage and McKinnon being an open and publicly supportive lesbian.

            Despite these claims, the decision is a healthy progression for an industry that is still largely dominated by white men. The ability to move beyond the fact that all of the characters are women and focus on their talent rather than they’re gender opens up a space for stronger female leads in the future. More roles allowing women to act without having to be classified as what they are rather than what they can do is exactly what the industry needs to create true democracy within the film industry.

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Lack of Diversity at The Academy Awards

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When the nominations for the 87th Academy Awards were announced on January 15th, one thing became immediate apparent: the lack of diversity in this year’s nominees. Public outcry emerged over the overbearing ‘whiteness’ of the awards, pointing out that this is the first year since 1998 that all twenty nominees for acting are white.

With the exception of Selma, a Martin Luther King Jr. biopic focusing on the civil rights movement in rural Alabama, all of the films nominated for the prestigious title of ‘Best Picture’ focus on the stories of white males. While it’s worthless to argue whether or not the films that are nominated deserve to be, the main issue is that the academy only chose to nominate eight films rather than the allowed ten. This means that they consciously passed over deserving films that feature people of color such as Get On Up and Belle.

The media attention that this controversy has received is significant in that it brings to light the need for diversity in the selection process. The Academy of Motion Pictures, the organization responsible for selecting annual nominees, is predominately made up of older white American men. Their choices don’t necessarily make them racists, but their preferences for films focusing on subjects they can relate should be noted. Hopefully, in the future this kind of discrimination can be avoided by allowing a wider range of ethnicities to be included in the selection process.

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above are all of this year’s nominees for best acting