July 19, 2017

Instead of waking up and checking their phones for the latest push notifications, newsletters or podcast episodes, BuzzFeed’s audience can now just ask for the morning’s top news.

The digital news organization launched a new morning briefing Wednesday that was made for smart speakers with hands-free voice services, such as the Amazon Echo. The briefing, titled Reporting to You, is typically a two- to four-minute audio roundup of the day’s most important news delivered by a different BuzzFeed reporter every day, with topics ranging from the latest emoji updates to the Senate’s health care bill.

“We wanted to make something that stood out, sounded different and — most importantly — sounded human,” said Eleanor Kagan, director of audio for BuzzFeed News. “I think this is a natural extension of the work BuzzFeed does to reach people on the platform … what we value here is experimenting on different platforms, and this seems like an ideal place to do that.”

One of the main goals of Reporting to You is informing people who don’t have a lot of time to spare. Listeners can activate the morning briefing by asking Alexa what the news is or telling the speaker to play the briefing, said Roxanne Emadi, editor of news curation at BuzzFeed.

“We really wanted it to be (for when) you’re busy, you’re getting ready in the morning,” she said. “We see that’s when most people are using these smart speakers.”

In addition to being available on the Amazon Echo, each episode of Reporting to You is also published to podcast streams such as Apple Podcasts. While the project’s morning news style is similar to shows such as The Daily and Up First, which both give listeners a summary of the day’s most important news, its much shorter length sets it apart.

“One way that it’s different is that it was really created with the smart speaker platform in mind, so it’s much more condensed than the daily podcasts that are out there,” said Alex Laughlin, a BuzzFeed news audio fellow who oversees reporting for the platform. “This is very much not like those products beyond the fact that it is a daily news podcast.”

Kagan said the idea for a personalized morning news product started about a year ago when she began collaborating with the technology team on what that would look like. After thinking about several different platforms, such as a chatbot, they settled on an audio briefing.

In December, BuzzFeed launched a flash briefing on Alexa that only read headlines in a robotic voice. While the UX wasn’t the best, Emadi said thousands of people were using the feature.

“Honestly, I was really surprised by how many people were actually listening even though we thought it wasn’t the greatest experience,” she said. “That’s why we teamed up with the audio team.”

Kagan said rather than trying to reach out to new audiences or develop an alternative revenue stream, the goals of Reporting to You are mainly accessibility for the listener and experimentation for BuzzFeed.

“I would say that our audience is the same audience that BuzzFeed News is aiming to reach — young people, people who just want a one-stop shop to cover social news stories and breaking news stories,” she said. “It really speaks to the evolving, emerging ways that people are going to continue to receive information and stories.”

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Daniel Funke is a staff writer covering online misinformation for PolitiFact. He previously reported for Poynter as a fact-checking reporter and a Google News Lab…
Daniel Funke

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