We’ve known for decades that for-profit capitalism and public-serving journalism are incompatible.
In New York City, in January 2019, it is brutally cold. Winter has arrived with savage consequences for digital publishers, including BuzzFeed. In the space of two weeks, about 2,100 jobs have been lost across the media, with many disappearing from purely digital publishers. BuzzFeed’s layoffs amounted to 15% of its total staff, a loss of around 220 jobs across all departments, including in its widely admired New York newsroom. On Friday, Vice, another media company once associated with fast growth, said it would lay off 10% of its workforce, while last month, the phone company Verizon, which owns Huffington Post and Yahoo, cut 800 workers in its media division. In the UK, the Pool, a website aimed at women launched in 2015 by radio presenter Lauren Laverne and magazine editor Sam Baker, went into liquidation, with 24 journalists facing redundancy.
The long slow decline of newspapers has been well documented, as advertisers and readers have increasingly shifted their attention to digital platforms. But for the companies that were lauded for having understood the social web faster than legacy media to falter sends a signal too dire for many media companies to contemplate. Many of us are concluding that the commercial internet makes profitable journalism exponentially harder, and in many cases impossible.
We need a world in which journalism is not looked upon as a driver of profit. It was this way for a short time, in the US at least, postwar (and maybe before?), when media corporations considered it prestigious and a matter of pride to be running serious-news arms, unprofitable though they were.
But it’s tough to imagine any corporation or millionaire/billionaire willingly forgoing profit. We need whole new paradigms for not only our media but for the entire economy. Cuz none of it is working.