BuzzFeed U.K. has come a long way since we sat on the floor with Luke Lewis

Back in 2013 we visited the new BuzzFeed U.K. team – just three people in a co-working space in White Bear Yard in Clerkenwell, London. Now, as their U.K. newsroom team grows to more than 50 editorial staff, we look back for the secrets to their success.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | August 5, 2015

The announcement that the Guardian‘s head of news, Stuart Millar, has joined Janine Gibson and James Ball at BuzzFeed in the U.K. highlights an extraordinary growth story at the viral news site. Former Guardian deputy editor Gibson plans to build a “coherent breaking news operation” and most likely further expand the newsroom.

Back in 2013, half of our delegation of international editors had to find space on the floor in a shared meeting room.

Even the questions reflect a more innocent time: “Do you just surf around and see what’s the buzz on the web?” asked one editor. That was before the rise of Storyful and Newswhip and a host of social tracking tools. It was a mystery why BuzzFeed had insisted on building their own CMS, and how they were already getting more than 50 percent of their traffic from mobile.

But launch lead and executive editor Luke Lewis had a playbook from the USA and a shrewd idea of how to grow in the U.K., starting slowly to avoid the negative publicity that surrounded the U.K. launch of the Huffington Post.

On the floor at Buzzfeed UK in May 2013On the floor at Buzzfeed UK in May 2013Just to be safe, they had even hired ex-HuffPo staffer Sam Parker as features editor. And they were highly focused on content with a British spin. For example, while it was common knowledge that people share positive content that uplifts and delights, it turned out Brits enjoyed being little more ‘snarky’ or critical. One of BuzzFeed’s top performing stories in April 2013 was “The 21 Types Of Hipster You Encounter In London”, not to mention “21 Weirdly Angry Mail Online Commenters”.

Brits also liked science – so the week we visited they were recruiting a U.K. science editor, a role that did not exist in the USA at that point.

But crucially, even as they grew from a mere five posts a day to hiring editorial hotshots Gibson and Millar, previously number one and two respectively at the Guardian U.S. operation, Lewis recognised that the homepage was dead:

“We spend 10-20 minutes a day editing the homepage. It’s really not that important.”

Even today this remains a bold statement, as demonstrated by the debate that raged, for example, between Quartz and ESPN at Digital Media Strategies in March.

As social news operations mature and evolve, it’s clear BuzzFeed has made some successful bets, and they are 100-percent serious about their U.K. operation.

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