Reinventing Morning Chat

(Above: ‘AM to DM’ hosts Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald)

BuzzFeed says its daily show AM to DM, which launched last September, “reimagines the traditional morning show format for the way young people consume news today.”

Hosted by Saeed Jones and Isaac Fitzgerald, AM to DM airs live every day from 10-11 am ET on BuzzFeed News via TwitterBuzzFeed.Twitter.com and Periscope.

The Savvy Screener recently discussed AM to DM with Cindy Vanegas-Gesuale (above), BuzzFeed’s head of programming, who prior to being promoted in January, was the show’s executive producer.

TSS: It’s now been several months since AM to DM’s September launch. How has the show evolved during that time?

Vanegas-Gesuale: The show is now even more attuned to the social conversations happening on Twitter and the people leading those conversations. And we’ve been bringing those voices onto our show, whether it’s Felix Salmon to give some perspective on the stock market plunge, New York magazine’s David Marchese to discuss his notable interview with Quincy Jones that dominated the news cycle, or BuzzFeed News’s own civil rights reporter Dominic Holden to talk us through his scoop about the transgender military ban.

We are better at interacting with and engaging our viewers by pulling their tweets and responding in real time. We are also better at identifying the stories that differentiate us from traditional morning shows and that matter to a younger audience.

“We don’t shy away from anything. Our philosophy is ‘if there is a social conversation happening about a topic on Twitter we will cover it.”

TSS: What does the production staff look for when determining each day’s news and features? What kinds of topics does AM to DM prefer to cover, or to shy away from?

Vanegas-Gesuale: We don’t shy away from anything. Our philosophy is ‘if there is a social conversation happening about a topic on Twitter we will cover it.’ The challenge, of course, comes when there are a lot of great conversations happening and we have to decide which to focus on. We often ask ourselves ‘what’s a story that needs to be reported today and what’s a story that requires more in-depth production or a key guest to do it justice.’ In determining the day’s news, we also look at original reporting coming from the BuzzFeed newsroom whether it be a huge investigation into top-level figure skating judges favoring skaters from their home countries, on the ground reporting about the latest in the tragic Florida shooting, or what’s happening in the news cycle.

TSS: You’ve previously been with CNN and Fox Business News. Any similarities with Buzzfeed, or has this been a totally different experience?

Vanegas-Gesuale: My experiences at CNN and FBN helped shape how I produce and build shows and teams, and I bring that with me everywhere I go. In terms of workplace culture and editorial, this has been a totally different experience. The newsroom is young, vibrant and really attuned to reporting for the internet. Learning what matters on Twitter has also been an eye-opening experience. I spend a lot of time now talking about ratios, moments and power users.

TSS: Wasn’t AM to DM originally scheduled for 8 am? Why was the time changed to 10 am? Was it to avoid the competition, or is that just a better time for millennials? If so, why?

Vanegas-Gesuale: As we approached the launch of the show, we realized that 10 am ET hit something of a sweet spot, capturing viewers just waking up on the west coast, as well as BuzzFeed fans in Europe just getting home from work or winding down their day. And of course, a good number of millennials and college students don’t start their days until 10, so we can’t forget about them!

“We produce the show that we want to watch. That means a well-rounded show that responsibly reports on hard news and lighter stories.”

TSS: The traditional network morning shows face a daily balancing act between news and entertainment segments. How does AM to DM handle that side of things? Is the separation of news and entertainment less or more of an issue for the millennial audience?

Vanegas-Gesuale: We produce the show that we want to watch. That means a well-rounded show that responsibly reports on hard news and lighter stories. Our audience trusts us to cover political stories just as much as what’s happening in Hollywood, and if we laugh and have fun along the way – and that gets framed as an entertainment segment – that shouldn’t take away from the importance of the story. That separation is less important to the millennial audience because there is more overlap between entertainment segments and hard news. If you look at the news cycle over the last few weeks you’ll see many of the leading stories – #MeToo, Black Panther – are entertainment stories with social ramifications.

TSS: Does the presence of bad actors on Twitter and other social media – Russian bots, trolls, purveyors of “fake news,” etc. – make AM to DM’s job more difficult?  If so, what steps do you take to filter out the garbage?

Vanegas-Gesuale: It makes our job more fun because we are very much aware of those bad actors and their ways, so we get to report on how they influence the internet and bring that awareness to our audience. BuzzFeed News routinely breaks stories about fake news, troll farms, and bots, so we are armed with that reporting power and able to shine a light on ‘’the garbage.”

 TSS: Do you expect AM to DM to have any impact on traditional morning shows?

Vanegas-Gesuale: I know producers of traditional morning shows are watching and just as we learn from them, they learn from us.

“We don’t look at social media conversations as something we integrate into our show, we look at them as the driver of our editorial.”

TSS: Other shows also integrate social media conversations. How does AM to DM differ from them?

Vanegas-Gesuale: We don’t look at social media conversations as something we integrate into our show, we look at them as the driver of our editorial. We authentically talk to and with people on the internet about stories bubbling on the internet in the language of the internet.

TSS: How does AM to DM fit into Buzzfeed’s broader strategic vision?

Vanegas-Gesuale: BuzzFeed News has such a unique and distinctive personality, so over the past year we’ve started to think more about how to branch into other traditional platforms like television, documentaries and even films. AM to DM is the Twitter generation’s take on the traditional morning show; but we’re also looking at turning our award-winning investigative reporting into documentaries and series (we’ve already sold several storylines to Hollywood production companies); and we’re exploring a weekly news show with a major video platform. In the end, this will not only expand the presence and reach of BuzzFeed News, but also become new, crucial sources of revenue so that we can continue to fund high-quality journalism.

“Over the past year we’ve started to think more about how to branch into other traditional platforms like television, documentaries and even films.”

TSS: What’s coming up in the future for AM to DM?

Vanegas-Gesuale: Lots of great guests and provocative conversations. Stay tuned!

 

 

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