BuzzFeed is the media industry’s worst nightmare — profitable, growing and investing in news

You may know it mostly for its “listicles” about funny-looking cats and dogs, or posts that use animated GIFs from Jurassic Park to explain the Egyptian revolution, but BuzzFeed has much bigger ambitions, according to an internal memo posted at LinkedIn. In the letter (which he posted) founder Jonah Peretti said he wants to build a new-media entity that will rival any of the traditional news organizations that ruled the industry during the last century.

Peretti started the memo (which naturally includes a list) with some bragging about where BuzzFeed is compared with where it began five years ago, when he and a group of investors — many of whom were involved in the formation of another ground-breaking media entity, The Huffington Post (s aol) started the company, based in part on Peretti’s theories about how to create “viral” content for a social and digital-media age:

“BuzzFeed reached record traffic of 85 million unique visitors in August. We are 3X bigger than we were just one year ago, 8X bigger than we were two years ago, and we have served more web pages so far in 2013 than we have in the entire previous five year history of the company. By this time next year we should be one of the biggest sites on the web.”

Growing rapidly, and now profitable


Peretti also announced for the first time that the company — which has grown to more than 300 employees — is profitable, thanks in large part to the site’s use of sponsored content. Last year, the BuzzFeed founder said the site ran 265 such ad programs, which involve BuzzFeed staff creating posts that mimic the viral content it usually runs, but based around a topic related to the sponsor. Peretti said the site will do more than three times as many this year.

While many existing newspapers and other traditional media entities are struggling to make ends meet and cutting back on their news coverage — something Peretti mentions in his memo, with a reference to many traditional publishers being “run at a loss by wealthy families” — BuzzFeed plans to continue hiring reporters and editors for its news operation:

“We will continue to hire the most talented reporters and writers in the world, we will expand our breaking news coverage, build the infrastructure and team for large-scale investigative journalism and all the intense research and reporting that entails, and inform our readers about the issues that matter to them and their world.”

A list of things it won’t do

Unlike many CEOs, Peretti also took the time to list the things that BuzzFeed isn’t going to do, many of which contained thinly-veiled shots at existing media and technology players:

“We will NOT launch a BuzzFeed TV show, radio station, cable network, or movie franchise – we’ll leave that to the legacy media and Hollywood studios. We will NOT launch a white labeled version of BuzzFeed to power other sites or a BuzzFeed social network – we’ll leave that to pure tech companies in Silicon Valley. We will NOT launch a print edition or a paywall or a paid conference business – we’ll leave that to other publications.”

Whether BuzzFeed can make a successful transition from a lightweight provider of animated GIFs into a full-fledged media entity with hard news reporting and investigative journalism remains to be seen. But it’s worth remembering that The Huffington Post was also widely mocked by existing media players when it first began, and six years later it was acquired for $315 million — and not long after that, it won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative reporting.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Dunechaser, Shutterstock / Zinchuk Oksana