Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra
“End of BuzzFeed News creates suspicion about the future of big media outfits worldwide. Failure of traditional business models indicates a search for innovations that will create a new chapter in the media landscape”
The closure of the leading digital news platform United States-based BuzzFeed News was announced during the second half of April 2023. Jonah Peretti, Chief Executive Officer of BuzzFeed explained that there was no option left, but to lay off employees due to a business slowdown that will gradually lead to the shutdown the internationally acclaimed news site.
Basing upon the unprecedented popularity of social media in the Western hemisphere during the later part of the first decade of the twenty-first century, BuzzFeed News was developed as a social media-dependent news product. However, the decrease in popularity of social media during the later part of the second decade adversely reflected upon the news platform. Ultimately the prevailing situation compelled to take a decision for close of the publication.
First, BuzzFeed News was a digital news platform, secondly, its operation spread across the world, thirdly its business model depended upon reaching the consumers via social media, fourthly it stressed the importance upon investigative journalism and fifthly hiring renowned journalists were some of the strategies adopted by BuzzFeed News to generate high impact journalism. But failure of the news site to survive raised questions on the efficacy of trending models among digital news ventures.
The way social media accumulated supremacy among all the media in Western countries, many took it for granted to consider certain social media platforms as the future of media. Of course, the role played by popular social media giants managing activities like grocery purchases to entertainment and social movements to elections covering huge population transcending geographies left no stones unturned to doubt their strength.
May be the adoption of a two-century-old advertisement-depended business model of print publications by social media and digital news platforms met with catastrophe due to loss of advertisement revenue. Economic slowdown followed the Covid 19-induced-pandemic during turn of the second into third decade of the twenty-first century. Though different indicators claimed rise in advertisement spending, the shift of revenue from the mainstream media to emerging platforms painted an entirely different picture. Such an environment led to closure of a number of media entities. The same reason compelled the disappearance of print publications in the Western nations during the first two decades of the twenty-first century and the trend contaminated to the digital news media.
BuzzFeed News was launched in 2012. Ben Smith, a renowned journalist working in Politico was appointed as the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News in December 2011. About 100 journalists were working in the platform including 20 investigative reporters by 2016. BuzzFeed News was awarded Pulitzer Prize for excellence in international reporting in 2021. It’s website claimed in 2018 that five crore ‘unique monthly readers’ visited the platform. However, about 15 percent of employees were laid off in 2019 as a result of the failure of adopted editorial and business models. Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith resigned from BuzzFeed News in 2020 to join The NewYork Times as a media writer.
It is well marked from the developments that BuzzFeed News tasted failure much ahead of the pandemic. Both editorial and business models could not yield profitable results. Creativity, time and investment in the platform proved not to be enough to run an international news outfit. Investigative journalism may create sensation in the short run, but may not be regarded as the elementary component of journalism. Reporting demands creativity, which enriches journalism for long-lasting influence. Similarly, technology alone cannot support journalism. Invention of technological tools is a continuous process and the consumers of media sailing along the trend arrive at a technology today, only to jump into a new one tomorrow. The journey of media beginning from ‘News Books’ to ‘Short Videos’ is long enough, but does not halted at any point.
The mission statement of BuzzFeed News mentioned, “We cover what you care about, break big stories that hold the major institutions accountable for their actions and expose injustices that change people’s lives”. The editorial policy of the news platform appeared to fall in the category of an ‘agenda-setting’ attitude. In such an environment whatever the editor thinks fit to be reported will be laid emphasis upon. Failure of such a narrow outlook proved that the platform did not belong to the category of quality journalism.
The Chief Execute Officer of BuzzFeed News Jonah Peretti was the co-founder of The Huffington Post launched during 2005. It gathered popularity as a digital news platform in short time. He resigned from the Post in 2011 after the outfit changed ownership and promoted the tech platform BuzzFeed started by him during 2006. The other co-founder of The Huffington Post. Arianna Huffington resigned in 2016 to start a new digital venture Thrive Global devoted to health and lifestyle. Ben Smith who remained Editor-in-Chief of BuzzFeed News between 2011 and 2020 launched an international news platform Semafor in 2022.
Career profiles of big names associated with BuzzFeed News explain that in developed economies like the United States digital news start-ups could raise enough capital during the second decade of the twenty-first century and a few popular journalists could take advantage of the situation to build up their own news platforms. But during the staff layoff in 2019 Jonah Peretti mentioned that he was compelled to take steps to reduce expenditure rather than gather further investments. It might have meant that by that time it was no longer possible to attract investments. End of BuzzFeed News creates suspicion about the future of big media outfits worldwide. Failure of traditional business models indicates a search for innovations that will create a new chapter in the media landscape.
(English translation of the original Odia newsletter by the author circulated on April 28, 2023. https://tinyletter.com/pradeepmahapatra/letters/message-299
It is an open-access content, free for translation and reproduction)
Dr. Pradeep Mahapatra is a retired faculty of Journalism, Berhampur University, Odisha.https://about.me/pradeepmahapatra
How the social traffic that gave life to BuzzFeed News ultimately led to its demise – Digiday