Netflix announced on Wednesday that it is rolling out a new short-form series called “Follow This,” which will profile writers and editors who work at BuzzFeed News and the stories they are working on, in 15-minute segments. As an example, a promo for the series features BuzzFeed reporter Scaachi Koul talking about a story she is working on related to ASMR, a somewhat bizarre Internet subculture of people who create and consume videos consisting solely of soothing noises designed to trigger a feeling of mild euphoria.
It’s a classic kind of BuzzFeed story, and the clip does its best to make the process of reporting interesting to non-journalists, with short cut-scenes of people typing on their laptops, or monitors with interesting-looking things on them. But doo ordinary people really want to watch journalists at work? Obviously most journalists would like to think the answer is yes, but it’s not clear whether that’s actually true or not.
Whenever a movie like Spotlight or The Post comes out and gets a good response at the box office, journalists cheer in part because it validates what they do, and even in some cases makes it seem mildly interesting. But it often does this by leaving out all the hard work, and focusing on tropes like the chain-smoking reporter who meets his sources in dark alleys, or the crusty editor with the heart of gold.
It’s easy to see why BuzzFeed would jump at a Netflix series–it could give the site a higher profile, and promote some of its writers. And it’s easy to see why the streaming service would be interested in doing it: Netflix has a desperate need for more and more content, and Follow This is a good way to experiment with the 15-minute format (which both Facebook Watch and YouTube also have in their sights). But is there any real demand for this kind of content, apart from journalists and their friends?
It’s true that BuzzFeed has produced some success stories from its own internal short-form video experiments, including former writer Matt Bellassai, who gained a following for his Whine About It series, in which he complained about things while drinking wine in the BuzzFeed newsroom, and later left the site to pursue a career as a comedian. But that seemed more like a happy accident.
Journalist friends have argued the time may be ripe for this kind of behind-the-scenes series, now that the media and journalism itself are under fire from the president, and people are theoretically more interested in protecting it. And perhaps BuzzFeed News can manage to tap into some of that with this series. Or it might join TMZ Live–a behind-the-scenes show about the celebrity news site and its reporting–as something that exists for a very tiny niche market. And maybe that’s as it should be.