Last month, BuzzFeed hit the streets with its first ever, special edition print newspaper. We spoke with Creative Director, Dennis Huynh, about the process and inspiration behind this one-time event.
SPD: What inspired BuzzFeed to publish this special edition print newspaper?
Dennis Huynh, Creative Director: In early 2019, our editor-in-chief, Ben Smith, and our chief marketing officer, Ben Kaufman, had the idea to create and distribute a one-time-only, special-edition newspaper. The goal was to increase awareness around the wide range of stories we publish across BuzzFeed’s channels, and to produce something fun and unexpected.
SPD: How did the team decide on what should be included?
DH: We wanted this paper to be a celebration of everything that BuzzFeed publishes, so we looked at a wide cross-section of story topics from hard news to cultural commentary, quizzes, and local NYC content. The executive director for BuzzFeed.com, Jessica Probus, generated a large list of BuzzFeed-y stories and videos, while Lisa Tozzi, our former global news director, and Ben Smith generated a list of news pieces. From there my deputy design director, Ben King, and I looked through to evaluate what stories were most compelling from an art perspective and how to adapt these stories for print.
SPD: What was it like returning to the print medium after being at BuzzFeed for several years?
DH: It was really, really fun! A lot of our staff have print backgrounds so it was a fun flashback to hone in on display copy that doesn’t have to work for SEO, and then have fights over word counts. From an art direction and design perspective, the core features of storytelling aren’t that different in print vs. online; it’s mostly just in the format of the output.
SPD: What was the process of putting this together like?
DH: A little like Freaky Friday, but in a good way! You’re taking all your favorite things about one format and swapping them with the other. Things like strict word counts, non-SEO-based headlines, full typographic control — those advantages of print felt both luxurious and alien.
We wanted this to be a surprise internally as well, so we produced this with mostly in-house staff who know the voice of the brand. Having a small, action-oriented team was key to making it all happen super quickly.
From there it was very methodical and a typical magazine creation process. We secured the print vendor, made a schedule, picked the slate of stories, and started to whip each page and story into shape.
SPD: Can you tell us about the major creative elements?
DH: We knew going in that one of our biggest creative elements and challenges was going to be the cover. Editorially we wanted the topic to be timely and relevant, so it had to be chosen very close — 36 hours close — to our print deadline. It also had to be something that felt of the internet and in our wheelhouse. Momo fit that bill perfectly. The angle wasn’t about the parental outrage or YouTube, but the segment of the internet who were her fans and even found her sexy. So we wanted to portray her in a flattering, lovable light, which, if you’re familiar with the original sculpture, was a tall order.
Once the subject was secured, we knew we would need an illustrator who is fast and could render the right aesthetic for Momo. Lead by Ben King, we chose Kelsey Dake to execute this fun and humanizing portrait of Momo. There were some last minute twists and turns to get the tone just right, but in the end Momo turned out beautifully, to everyone’s delight.
SPD: What's your favorite part of the newspaper?
DH: There’s too much good stuff to choose from! I love it all. Given that it was only a 12-page run, we wanted to maximize that we were in our old-stomping grounds of print and wanted to have as much fun with each page to, hopefully, surprise and delight our audience.
All the illos on the NYC secrets page by our junior designer Ben Kothe are so much fun! The dramatic steak stack photo by our deputy photo director, Kate Bubacz, makes me want to start cooking. The full page of historical photos and essay on pie by our photo essays editor Gabriel H. Sanchez evokes thoughts of a simpler world. The arresting illo by Alex Eben Meyer for the Netflix binge page makes me want to stay up for hours watching TV!
SPD: What's next for BuzzFeed? Any plans to do something again in print in the future?
DH: You never know! Mike the former press secretary on Veep (played by Matt Walsh) just started working at BuzzFeed Magazine: Print Edition so...maybe?
Dennis Huynh, Creative Director
Ben King, Deputy Design Director
Kate Bubacz, Deputy Photo Director
Gabriel H. Sanchez, Photo Essays Editor
Ben Kothe, Jr. Designer
Ben Smith, Editor in Chief
Ben Kaufman, Chief Marketing Officer
Lisa Tozzi, Global News Director
Jessica Probus, Executive Director, BuzzFeed.com
Emmy Favilla, Senior Commerce Editor
Megan Paolone, Copy Chief
Dru Moorhouse, Deputy Copy Chief
Emerson Malone, Jr. Copy Editor
David Parnes, Project Manager, Commerce