While the companies’ reasonings behind mass layoffs aren’t identical, there is a common thread: The cuts have less to do with the talent of the workers, and more to do with financial imperatives and the whims of investors. THR reports that Nancy Dubuc, CEO at Vice, seeks to decrease spending and increase profitability. HuffPost spokesperson told CNN that the site is “investing its talents and resources to areas that have high audience engagement, differentiation and are poised for growth at a time when our mission means more than ever.” And according to BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, who reportedly suggested that employees bring dogs to work on Monday as a means of raising morale, BuzzFeed is “restructuring” to “focus in on the content that is working, and achieve the right cost structure to support our multirevenue model.” (There is also speculation that BuzzFeed is preparing for a sale or merger.)
Back in the early 2000s newspaper company owners could still get away with blaming kids on their phones for not paying for news. Shit, they’re still doing that to explain what happened to newspapers, but now that the layoffs are hitting digital shops some people are actually starting to notice that hey, the money WAS there, and it just wasn’t being spent on journalism.
There’s a reason I yell so much about the nonprofit model for legacy and new media: Because enough money can be enough. If you’re paying your bills and can sock a little away at a time in case of emergency, you’re okay. If you’re pulling down maybe a small profit, huzzah! You get to celebrate, possibly by hiring people or doing a kickass project. You don’t have to freak the fuck out and fire fourteen people because the profit margin went from five percent to four.
Newspapers, yes the dead trees on which information is printed and distributed to the masses, are STILL profitable enterprises. Online news outlets can still be profitable. They’re just not profitable ENOUGH for Wall Street analysts, and it’s infuriating to see people fired to make a spreadsheet look better. That’s an insane reason for stories to not get done. It’s absurd. It’s laughable, but dismantling that entire system is harder than screaming at Facebook and Google so here we go:
“This isn’t happening because of market inefficiencies or consumer preferences or social value,” HuffPost senior reporter Zach Carter tweeted. “It’s happening because two very large companies have taken the advertising revenue that journalism outlets rely on and replaced it with nothing.”
YOU WERE NEVER ENTITLED TO ADVERTISING MONEY. Nobody owed you their dollars and Facebook and Google didn’t set out to kill journalism, they set out to suck up all the cash. They don’t care about you at all. It wasn’t maliciousness, it was indifference, the same indifference with which, say, hedge funds run papers. This was all foreseeable three damn years ago and the way I know that is that people saw it. They were, of course, laughed off in favor of making promotional videos for machine learning plans.
And instead of building something good in the meantime, your bosses decided to pivot and pivot and pivot. They’re ones to be mad at, not techbros in San Fran and Seattle. They’re the ones who owed you their loyalty and hard work and they threw it away on plans to blanket the Internet in videos and endless podcasts. Because Facebook and Google told them to and laughed all the way to the bank.
I can’t sympathize with people who didn’t listen when we said they were gonna get taken. I feel bad for the journalists who tried to do good work and I hope that now, finally, finally, that we’re talking about money and where it goes we can start understanding who has journalism’s best interests at heart, and build some systems that serve them instead of pivoting some more.