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BuzzFeed News’ Head of Programming: Twitter Is The ‘Beating Heart’ Of Journalism

Culture

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Learn why BuzzFeed is betting big on social TV.

It’s been nearly three months since BuzzFeed News debuted its new millennial-focused social talk show, “AM to DM.” We checked in with Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale, Head of Programming at BuzzFeed News, to hear about how the program came to life and what the team has learned on the journey so far.

SMW: How did the concept for “AM to DM” come to life? Why did BuzzFeed News choose Twitter as its exclusive distribution partner?

CVG: Before I was brought on to produce “AM to DM,” BuzzFeed News had been starting to invest heavily in live video, including an Election Night special on Twitter that 7.5 million unique viewers tuned in to. The BuzzFeed News team wanted to capitalize on the success it was having in the live video space, and find new and interesting ways to align video with the biggest and best work coming out of BuzzFeed News and create something really unique for our audience. Thus, “AM to DM” was born.

We saw a live morning show as a way to drive the conversations taking place in the worlds of politics, entertainment, tech, and media, ask questions of powerful people, and extend the impact of BuzzFeed News reporting. We also felt it was important to reimagine the traditional morning show format for the way people consume news today, which is on Twitter. Twitter is the beating heart of news and has always been a big part of the culture of the BuzzFeed News newsroom, and we wanted to focus that conversation on what was happening in real time – not from yesterday or hours before—while engaging with our audience.

SMW: How are brands integrated into the show?

CVG: Our editorial team meets with brand representatives to understand their campaign and messaging. We then take those learnings and sit through several creative brainstorms. In those brainstorms we ask ourselves where is there a thematic alignment between the campaign and our editorial voice, and how does this campaign fit into content we would create for the show organically. We come up with several ideas for alignment and then work with the brand to select the best segment theme.

SMW: How should branded integrations function in a social TV setting vs. traditional TV?

CVG: At its core, social TV is about sharing and real-time feedback from the audience. That real-time feedback is there for everyone to see and it becomes an integral part of the editorial. On “AM to DM,” we lean into how to make the brand’s message resonate in a way that’s authentic and will drive the audience to participate in the conversation. We monitor and integrate that participation as the segments unfold live. It’s a key function that social TV allows that brands won’t get on traditional TV.

SMW: Where does live programming fit within BuzzFeed News broader content strategy?

CVG: BuzzFeed News is constantly experimenting on platforms, and we lean into our digital advantages that allow us to be more nimble and transparent with our audience and our content to be more easily digested and understood. We aren’t beholden to print deadlines or word count, and we think about how to best help our audience navigate the complex, polluted information environment they inhabit, whether that be on our site, social platforms or through live video.

We’ve invested substantially in live programming over the past year. In that time, tens of millions of people have tuned in to BuzzFeed News’ live video productions, from “AM to DM” to strikes taking place across the country to our live broadcasts of special elections. We believe that integrating more video into the newsroom helps build on the fundamental reporting that we do, and ultimately extends the reach and deepens the impact we have across platforms. Our shows have been a great megaphone for our journalism and journalists, and we’ve been able to combine our understanding of the news cycle with great production values and forms to create something really compelling for our audience.

SMW: How does “AM to DM” select the show’s discussion topics? What’s the editorial process like?

CVG: We have three criteria for story selection. We look at the social conversation on Twitter, what’s happening in the news cycle and the original reporting coming out of the BuzzFeed Newsroom. As we are commuting to the office we are sharing links to tweets and stories that we find interesting. At 6:30 a.m. ET we gather as a team and start whittling down various topics. We ask ourselves:

  • How is this conversation unfolding in our timelines right now?
  • Who are the most engaged Twitter users?
  • Will people still be talking about this at 10 a.m. ET?

Once we have our key stories selected we look for supporting tweets and discuss the right framing and guests for each conversation. Between 7 a.m. ET and when the show goes live at 10 a.m. ET, we book guests, write copy, monitor our timelines for updates and rehearse.

SMW: “AM to DM” participated in #GivingTuesday this year. Can you tell how you got involved?

CVG: “AM to DM” was an official media partner of #GivingTuesday this year. We wanted to join forces with #GivingTuesday to raise awareness for the event overall and inform our audience on how they could get involved as well. During our segment, “AM to DM: hosted Asha Curran, Chief Innovation Officer and Director of the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92nd Street Y, the founding institution of #GivingTuesday, and skateboarding legend Tony Hawk. Asha helped to educate our audience on what the day is and how they can give back. It was a great complement to our usual programming, and we hope to work with #GivingTuesday in the future.

SMW: Thanks, Cindy! Readers can tune-in to “AM to DM” weekdays at 10 a.m. ET on Twitter.

Cover photo via The Hollywood Reporter

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