Jack Nissen

Journalism’s Gray Area Is More Black And White Than You’d Think


According to Buzzfeed, there are precisely 31 grilled cheeses that are better than a boyfriend. Recorded in the article, with a sub-header of “Valentine’s Day is nice, but you’d probably rather have dinner with THESE hotties,” is one of the pop culture site’s listicles that unveils anything from the “Pulled Short Rib Grilled Cheese with Pickled Red Onions” to the “Monterey Chicken Grilled Cheese” and even the “Fig and Manchego Grilled Cheese on Olive Bread.”

What sorcery was behind the creation of this article? How did Buzzfeed Publisher Dao Nguyen know such impressive journalism wit would resonate with the social media community? What witchcraft of a data analysis program told the experts at the trendiest website in town this page would be popular? How many more words can I pull out of a thesaurus until you stop reading?

Turns out, there is no single formula. The secret to Buzzfeed’s success doesn’t reside in a simple 1’s and 0’s. It’s not binary.

“The myth stems from people’s desire to have a black and white explanation, a simple explanation. The reality is that things are more nuanced than you would like them to be, and more complicated than you would like them to be, ” said Dao Nguyen.

Ngyuen looks to the creative minds for their prime source of new content. Numbers and data points can only do so much as to explain the “why” component of the information they represent. To extrapolate that kind of information requires thinking that goes beyond 1’s and 0’s.

This isn’t to say the rest of the internet echoes the same sentiment of Ngyuen. She places an emphasis on the creativity aspect of modern journalism, which appears to contradict a lot of the web that shows as the importance of data in reporting.

“Today news story are flowing in as they happen, from multiple sources, eye-witnesses, blogs and what has happened is filtered through a vast network of social connections, being ranked, commented and more often than not: ignored.” – The Data Journalism Handbook

So which is right?

Which leads us into the omnipresent gray area that accompanies every fork in the road. One doesn’t have to go right or left when the real answer is stepped on by footprints of both paths.

The answer is both. Data is essential to many industries, even the ones that can’t initially be quantified (like writing). Especially in the world where clicks seem to be the most important numbers, as expressed in a previous blog post. But it’s not like Buzzfeed is the only website with access to their internet traffic data. Everyone has the capabilities of figuring this out. Hell I even know how many hits my blogs get (literally dozens!).

“I don’t think that Buzzfeed has the monopoly on data. I just think we use it well.” – Dao Nguyen

And that, my audience, is what stands as a pillar of truth from Nguyen. The successful people of today are the ones that can look at the numbers of a company and point in the direction those numbers are telling them to go. Obviously relative to the respective field, there are experts in every subject where data needs to be interpreted.

WJBK pushes out a social media post every hour. It may or may not be related to the station, but it’s got the Fox 2 logo on it and somehow counts as news. The senior web director of WJBK Jay Dillon noticed that views about Detroit City Throw Back pictures are always up, while videos filmed with a GoPro are always down. So what does he do with that data?

He keep pushing out content of what gets hits. Of course locals are going to be interested in those kind of posts about their city when it was during it’s heyday. So, he puts out more of those posts.

The only way for data to help more understanding of a brand is to push out more content. It’s why the successful publications have different articles pervasively shared on the internet. Those 31 grilled cheeses better than the boyfriend you have haven’t changed, only the number of people that now have the same knowledge as you.









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