Yeah, That’s Why BuzzFeed News Failed.

I’ll see if, in a few minutes, I can get at least the outlines of a rant out. I’ve got to get to an appointment in half an hour, but I just saw today’s Dealbook newsletter, which focuses on the demise of BuzzFeed News. “Why BuzzFeed News folded” it promises, then goes on to willfully fail to answer the question – in much the same fashion every other story has noted the latest catastrophe in what used to be called “the news business” these days.

Buzzfeed “failed to go public well,” it “didn’t focus on profitability” soon enough, it “depended on social networks too much.” That’s like analyzing an open wound by stating “it’s bleeding too much” and “the skin was too ruptured” and “the band aid failed to stay on.” True, but wrong.

Only when we are willing to acknowledge the cause of the wounds will we start to address them. And right now, it’s as if the very same journalists whose professions are imperiled can’t see the damn forest for the trees.

We sold The Recount, a social-first news business, to The News Movement just three months ago, and I’m proud we managed to keep the brand and the core team intact. But it wasn’t a soaring win, and it didn’t prove that digital news has found a core business model. No one startup – whether it be scrappy and new like The Recount or two decades old, like Buzzfeed, is going to solve the problems of the “digital news business.” The problems are systemic, and they go way, way beyond the reach and influence of journalism. Off the top of my head, they include:

  • A nation divided. We’re in a late stage, politicized society driven not by shared truth, but by tribal allegiance. News is about facts and truth – who, what, where, why, when, how. And it’s about holding those truths to power. When facts are disputed by the powerful and/or invented so as to confirm narratives that suit political power, society no longer values the core precepts of journalism. I hate to say it, but folks, that’s where we are.
  • Plutocrats. Many of our most vital sources of news are now owned by amoral, out of touch assholes who actively undermine facts and bend reality to their motives. It’s a total mystery to me why “journalists” are still on Twitter given how hostile Elon Musk is to their profession, but again, that’s where we are, folks. Silicon Valley, once the seedbed of optimism and “thinking differently,” has launched an all out war against journalism. Its most prominent voices – Andreessen Horowitz, Elon Musk, David Sachs, Peter Thiel, the list goes on and on – have openly called for the end of the free press. The richest men in the world have decided that journalistic values threaten their power, and the rest of the Valley – the founders, workers, service providers, and investors – have fallen either silent or in line.
  • Spineless advertisers. I’ve said it before, so I won’t waste too many words on it here, but a nation divided and plutocrats plundering means the only sector with the money and rationale to support journalism – and by extension democracy – simply won’t. In short, marketers refuse to stand up and back good journalism. They’re too afraid of stepping in shit, of being associated with controversy, and of pissing off a plutocrat with hundreds of millions of followers. This is late stage capitalism, and it’s ugly to behold.

The narrative that Buzzfeed News failed because Jonah Peretti didn’t focus on profitability, or because it was too dependent on Facebook, or because the SPAC market collapsed, is just shellac on systemic rot. Everyone in this business knows it, and its time they said the quiet part out loud.


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