Journalism Analysis: an insight into CNN’s and BuzzFeed’s online reporting of an American political issue

With different specialties, CNN and BuzzFeed present distinctive ways to report the Migrant Protection Protocols issue through online delivery.

Introduction

Since the late 1990s, the innovation of digital technologies has been changing both the appearance of journalism and the relationship between journalism and its audiences (Bednarek & Caple, 2012). This article chooses two online deliveries from Cable News Network (CNN) and BuzzFeed to analyse and compare their engagement in online viewership from several aspects. The content goes with two biographies of the companies and then the in-depth discussion.

Biographies

CNN and BuzzFeed are both American-based news and media companies. Thus, both of them belong to a media system belonging to “liberal model” (p.67), where journalists are theoretically more professionalised, news organisations have more autonomy, and states have less control over the media market (Hallin & Mancini, 2004). In terms of online journalism, however, their performances should be evaluated concretely according to their own characteristics.

Reviewing CNN

Owned by WarnerMedia News & Sports, CNN delivers a wide range of American and worldwide news and has become one of the most popular pay television channels locally and internationally.

Since 1995, CNN has gone online, and its website, edition.cnn.com, has been recently ranked as the fourth most popular “News Website” in the United State, with a number of 95,000,000 “Estimated Unique Monthly Visitors” (eBizMBA, 2019) within the country. Coincided with by Alexa, Hwong (2018) from Verto Analytics reveals that CNN targets nearly equally male and female, while the largest age group is over 55, reaching 32.8% of the total audience.

Also, Alexa (2019a) reveals that Internet users earning over $100,000 annually are “over-represented” at CNN online. Furthermore, “Trump” is a key term that directs much “organic traffic” to CNN online (SimilarWeb, 2019a; Alexa, 2019a). Accordingly, edition.cnn.com primarily targets Internet users over 55, who are from the upper middle class and have a particular interest in American politics.

CNN mainly targets those who have high income, who are highly educatited and who are ederly aged.
Screenshot of CNN on Alexa: except age and interest, CNN also tends to target more educated people (March 28, 2019)

Reviewing BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is a relatively young private media website established in 2006, with its news division, buzzfeednews.com, opened only since 2011. Now as a popular worldwide multi-functional website, BuzzFeed has 13 core members and over 1300 staffs at 18 sites globally, guaranteeing its daily online delivery.

Without printed and cable basis, BuzzFeed, including its news division, relies largely on its interaction with search engines, especially Yahoo!, and social media platforms (SimilarWeb, 2019b; Alexa, 2019b). Both Alexa (2019b) and Verto Analytics (Hwong, 2018) reveal that Buzzfeed has an obvious preference for young adults and female Internet users.

Also, comparing BuzzFeed and CNN, statistics from SimilarWeb (2019c) indicate that BuzzFeed occupies almost all the “share split” of advertising traffic from amazon.com and etsy.com, both of which are worldwide online shopping centres.

Particularly, “buzzfeed quiz”, or just “quiz”, is a welcomed search term for its website (SimilarWeb, 2019b). In summary, the target audience of BuzzFeed mainly refers to female Internet users who are between 18 and 34 and who are interested in shopping and seeking online novelty.

BuzzFeed mainly targets young females who loves seeking novelty
Screenshot of BuzzFeed on Alexa: BuzzFeed also appeals to those who have kids (March 28, 2019)

Analysis

CNN news: Homeland Security expands program of returning migrants to Mexico to await hearings

BuzzFeed news: The Trump Administration Is Expanding Its Controversial Policy Of Making Asylum-Seekers Wait In Mexico

Content Comparison

CNN: accurately written; engaged scannability

For CNN, the writers, Sands and Alvarez, narrow the political subject down to “the Department of Homeland Security” rather than “President Trumps’ authority”, in order to avoid any possible misleading.

The content of the newsworthy issue, the expansion of “Migrant Protection Protocols”, is informed within the first two paragraphs. The rest of the article includes direct quotes from the Department of Homeland Security official; it presents concrete numbers to indicate the seriousness of the situation as well. Also, the writers use hyperlinks to connect to CNN’s previous relevant reports.

As convenient resources, CNN’s own cable broadcast and CNN itself become the news source. The source video is inserted right above the main article as another media form.

The inserted video tells the news story in another way
Screenshot of CNN’s delivery: the inserted video not only indicates the source but also strengthens the persuasiveness of the writing (March 28, 2019)

Such “audience-driven” features (Stovall, 2004, p.73) make this CNN news delivery accurate, well “informed”, and “illustrated” (Bradshaw, 2018, p.70), although it could have been more scannable if tags, such as “Migrant Protection Protocols” or “Mexican asylum-seekers”, are included.

BuzzFeed: less accuracy and scannability

For the BuzzFeed’s delivery, the writer, Aleaziz, uses the term “The Trump’s administration” in both the headline and the lead paragraph. Although this term obeys the fact contextually, such expression at the beginning may leave an inaccurate impression on readers, especially if they may have read Sands and Alvarez’s report a week ago.

Also, the writer is likely to present an antagonistic attitude toward the issue by using disapproving verbs, such as “denounce”, and quoting emotional adjectives, “shameful”, for instance.

Most bizarrely, although Aleaziz mentions the photographers’ names and the sources of used illustrations, which is Associated Press, the source of this news delivery remains unclear. Otherwise, the article is embedded with no hyperlinks to the sources of any of its quotes, meaning that the text locks its viewers up and navigates them to nowhere but the several relevant articles linked below. Accordingly, the BuzzFeed news delivery has achieved relatively less accuracy and scannability.

As a suggestion, Aleaziz could have embedded the source which tells exactly his news into his text, so as to avoid any plagiarism, such as the one from Reuters. Furthermore, similar to CNN, Aleaziz could have used more tags to optimise search engines’ traffic.

Engaging the Viewer: Interactivity 

To exert the real “power” (Briggs, 2010, p.289) of online delivery, both news stories have their own means to interact with the viewer.

CNN: interactive sharing but uninformed journalistic details

The CNN’s delivery has two basic sharing buttons set on the news page, so as to have the viewer share the article on Facebook and Twitter; if clicking on the red archive button on the right, four other social media platforms prepared for a wider user’s community appears. These sharing buttons will follow users’ scrolling of the screen, in case that they unexpectedly want to generate something of their own during their scanning.

However, although CNN Politics’ social media accounts are accessible on the top of the news page, this CNN news page does not provide detailed journalistic information as BuzzFeed does. For some reason, only Geneva Sands, one of the two writers, is embedded with a hyperlink to her biography. And even within her bio page, her image and at least one contact address are missing. If intending to communicate with the journalists, one may have to search their names outside the page.

As a suggestion, the writers, Sands and Alvarez, could have linked their names to their social media accounts, so as to achieve a higher level of interactivity, for example, Geneva Sands and Priscilla Alvarez.

BuzzFeed has detailed contact address of its journalist, Hamed Aleaziz
Screenshot of BuzzFeed’s delivery: the given email address of Hamed Aleaziz makes it easy for the viewer to interact with him (March 28, 2019)

BuzzFeed: immediate users’ generated content but less multimediality

What is brilliant about BuzzFeed is that it attaches an independent and immediate comment section under the article. Such space allows viewers to “contribute” (Briggs, 2010, p.289) their immediate thoughts over the article after their viewing and to make interpersonal conversations within the news page.

Therefore, BuzzFeed is more likely to formulate the “three-way communication” (Bradshaw, 2018, p.283) relationship between their audience and itself efficiently, as long as the journalist also joins in the conversation in the comment zone.

Viewers are having conversation in the comment zone under BuzzFeed's news delivery
Screenshot of BuzzFeed’s comment zone: viewers have started chatting under the news article (March 28, 2019)

However, despite the interactive comment zone, the lack of inner links and multimediality could still make the viewer be bored with the paragraphs. Although BuzzFeed has its own “BuzzFeed Community”, users in there are passionate for entertaining subjects but less interested in politics.

This article suggests that there be a political-themed quiz specially and interestingly designed for the news, because quiz, as is mentioned in the biography, is what makes BuzzFeed famous.

Technical Engagement

CNN: high legibility & feasible video and links

Sands and Alvarez condense their news story into about 321 words, using clean and short sentences and paragraphs and making it left-aligned. The integrity of the text is not compromised by advertisements or anything, making the news easy to read especially on mobile devices.

The embedded hyperlinks work normally. The broadcast video set between the text also functions well, while the viewer have to tolerate the advertising before every display.

Furthermore, the navigation to other news articles comes after several advertisements under the text and provides a wide range of news to explore.

BuzzFeed: less legibility & feasible links

In comparison, Aleaziz’s news story reaches 400 words. Although the length of sentences and paragraphs is slightly longer than that in Sands and Alvarez’s, it is still acceptable for online delivery.

The links around it, especially the relevant articles under the text, indicate well where the viewer can go to after their scanning through the page, which remedies some of the navigability of the text without hyperlinks.

However, the integrity of the text is compromised several times by the links to advertisements, which is likely to influence the fluency of viewing – viewers may have to frequently scroll down the screen on their phones, as their reading is interrupted by something else.

Conclusion

In case of the two news delivery, although BuzzFeed specializes more in the interactivity with the viewer, the news story from CNN does slightly better at engaging in qualified online delivering, mainly due to its more accurate writing, better multimediality and stronger scannability. However, no matter how they are evaluated and judged, the performance of both deliveries works for the features and images of their news companies and for their target audience – both of them make sense distinctively.

 

Word Count: 1462 (excluding headings and captions)

 

Reference list

Aleaziz, H. (2019, March 20). The Trump Administration Is Expanding Its Controversial Policy Of Making Asylum-Seekers Wait In Mexico. BuzzFeed. Retrieved from https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/hamedaleaziz/asylum-migrants-remain-mexico-trump-policy-expand

Alexa. (2019a). cnn.com Traffic Statistics. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/cnn.com#?sites=cnn.com&sites=buzzfeed.com&sites=abc.net.au

Alexa. (2019b). buzzfeed.com Traffic Statistics. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/buzzfeed.com#?sites=buzzfeed.com&sites=abc.net.au

Bednarek, M., & Caple, H. (2012). News discourse in context. In News discourse (pp. 19-38). London: Continuum International Publishing.

Bradshaw, P. (2018). The online journalism handbook : skills to survive and thrive in the digital age (Second edition.). London, [England] ;: Routledge.

Briggs, M. (2010). JournalismNext : a practical guide to digital reporting and publishing. Washington, D.C: CQ Press.

eBizMBA. (2019). Top 15 Most Popular News Websites. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/news-websites

Hallin, D., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems : three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hwong, C. (2018). Chart of the Week: Tracking the News: Reader Demographics. Retrieved from the Verto Analytics website: https://www.vertoanalytics.com/chart-week-tracking-news-reader-demographics/

Sands, G. & Alvarez, P. (2019, March 12). Homeland Security expands program of returning migrants to Mexico to await hearings. CNN. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2019/03/12/politics/remain-in-mexico-expands/index.html

SimilarWeb. (2019a). Website Analysis Overview Report: edition.cnn.com. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://pro.similarweb.com/#/website/worldwide-overview/edition.cnn.com/*/999/3m?webSource=Total

SimilarWeb. (2019b). Website Analysis Overview Report: buzzfeed.com. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://pro.similarweb.com/#/website/worldwide-overview/buzzfeed.com/*/999/3m?webSource=Total

SimilarWeb. (2019c). Website Analysis Overview Report: buzzfeed.com edition.cnn.com. Retrieved March 28, 2019, from https://pro.similarweb.com/#/website/worldwide-overview/buzzfeed.com,edition.cnn.com/*/999/3m?webSource=Total

Stovall, J. (2004). Web journalism : practice and promise of a new medium. Boston, Mass. ;: Allyn and Bacon.

 

About Victor Shen 5 Articles
A media and communication student who is now studying Master of Media and Practice in USYD. Used to study at the University of Nottingham. Having an interest in gender study and Japanese pop culture and subculture.

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