Media layoffs: Can journalism survive?
Journalists have become accustomed to layoffs, said Alex Pareene in the Columbia Journalism Review, but the events of the past week “felt more apocalyptic than usual.” More than 1,000 people lost their jobs in a wave of cuts at BuzzFeed, the Gannett newspaper group, and Verizon Media Group, which includes Huffington Post and Yahoo News. The layoffs at Gannett publications like The Arizona Republic and The Indianapolis Star weren’t surprising: Local newspapers have been in a “death spiral,” with hedge-fund vultures feeding on the remains. But digital news organizations “were supposed to have been the survivors.” Instead, BuzzFeed cut 15 percent of its staff in the bloodbath, including its entire national desk. HuffPost axed its whole opinion section. So much for websites picking up the journalism torch from print newspapers. “If the digital natives do survive, it might not have much to do with newsgathering.”
“The problem is not audience,” said Ben Mathis-Lilley in Slate.com. Tens of millions of people read sites like BuzzFeed and HuffPost for free every month. The problem is that it’s become nearly impossible for these sites to make money, because nearly 80 percent of digital advertising dollars go to Facebook and Google. It’s hardly fair for these tech giants to hoard the profits from ads that appear next to the stories that “people log on to Google and Facebook to find.” Regulations that forced tech companies to pay for news content would “clot some of the bleeding,” said Alex Shephard in The New Republic, but it wouldn’t save journalism. The internet irreversibly disrupted the media’s old business model, in which even local newspapers had huge revenues from classified and display advertising.
It’s “time to start thinking about plans of action if this ship ultimately sinks,” said Paul Blest in SplinterNews.com. Public funding of journalism would be a worthy investment. A recent study shows that local government costs go up when local newspapers shut down, with no watchdogs keeping an eye on public officials. Already, at least 900 communities in the U.S. no longer have a source of local news. There will be some survivors, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. A handful of major media companies will be big enough to survive by going behind paywalls and selling digital subscriptions. But most publications will fade away. “We’re watching the destruction of most of the nation’s journalistic capacity.”