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The BuzzFeed Layoffs as Democratic Emergency

By The New York Times

Working in digital media is like trying to build a fort out of marshmallows on a foundation made of marbles in a country ruled by capricious and tyrannical warring robots. I’ve toiled in this business for nearly 20 years, and even in the best of times, it has been a squeamish and skittering ride, the sort of career you’d counsel your kids to avoid in favor of something less volatile and more enduring — bitcoin mining, perhaps

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  • The pathology described in paragraph 4 are just symptoms. The real disease is a bad combination of hubris and complacency. Tech companies are not killing media, media is killing itself.

    Tech companies do not posses a crystal ball or magical beans that give them advantages. They simply hire highly motivated, exceptionally smart people, and enable them to innovate. Gluttonous media companies obsess over internal politics and protecting the status quo. Perhaps less time spent lamenting the demise

    The pathology described in paragraph 4 are just symptoms. The real disease is a bad combination of hubris and complacency. Tech companies are not killing media, media is killing itself.

    Tech companies do not posses a crystal ball or magical beans that give them advantages. They simply hire highly motivated, exceptionally smart people, and enable them to innovate. Gluttonous media companies obsess over internal politics and protecting the status quo. Perhaps less time spent lamenting the demise of the newsroom drink cart and more time spent innovating might have led to different outcomes.

    While Buzzfeed and Oath began as scrappy and techy startups, the industry's culture was too strong... and eventually took over.

  • Max Lockie
    Max LockiePlatform Editor at Quartz

    Ok Farhad, let’s step back from the ledge. The crisis to democracy isn’t some very good writers getting laid off from a thoughtful news and opinion website.

    The crisis is local newspapers no longer covering the events in the places where most Americans actually live.

  • Jing Cao
    Jing CaoQuartz

    Max says it all. Far more concerning than the Buzzfeed layoffs is the Gannett layoffs and the inability of one of the last print groups focused on local news to figure out how to stay afloat, much less make money.

  • We, in the media, really need to tone down the technology determinism and look inward. Newspapers (in the US) have been losing audience appeal for half a century, well before the tech giants appeared. Disappearance of local papers, journalists increasingly disconnected from the rest of the population, a general refusal to stand for causes (in favour of the unachievable quest to be impartial), the industry's eagerness for short-term gains (venture capitalist money, short-term gains for shareholders)

    We, in the media, really need to tone down the technology determinism and look inward. Newspapers (in the US) have been losing audience appeal for half a century, well before the tech giants appeared. Disappearance of local papers, journalists increasingly disconnected from the rest of the population, a general refusal to stand for causes (in favour of the unachievable quest to be impartial), the industry's eagerness for short-term gains (venture capitalist money, short-term gains for shareholders). It goes on. How many of them are we actually addressing? Easier to point the finger at others, I suppose.

  • A thought provoking essay on the implications for democracy of the economic collapse of digital journalism. His key point is that an electronic information war threatens democracy; the collapse of digital journalism tilts an imbalanced playing field further in favor of those who are attacking democracy.

    I can only imagine how proud the author must be of his opening sentence: “Working in digital media is like trying to build a fort out of marshmallows on a foundation made of marbles in a country

    A thought provoking essay on the implications for democracy of the economic collapse of digital journalism. His key point is that an electronic information war threatens democracy; the collapse of digital journalism tilts an imbalanced playing field further in favor of those who are attacking democracy.

    I can only imagine how proud the author must be of his opening sentence: “Working in digital media is like trying to build a fort out of marshmallows on a foundation made of marbles in a country ruled by capricious and tyrannical warring robots.”

    The essay gets a lot better after that.

  • Anu Singh
    Anu SinghDirector at Media

    I don’t think Farhad is exaggerating. Democracy relies on journalism and the most important stories take time to research and report. If the media companies that write these stories aren’t able to support the hard-working journalists who help uphold our democracy, we should all be very worried.

  • I don’t see the layoffs as indicative of much of anything other than a failure to effectively deliver what the consumer wants in a profitable fashion. The digital world is still in its infancy in many ways. There’s a lot of organizations competing for the same space - a situation that never really worked in print media either.

    With all due respect there’s way too much crappy journalism in the digital space. And that’s simply not acceptable.

    Perhaps there will be turmoil for a while. I hope so

    I don’t see the layoffs as indicative of much of anything other than a failure to effectively deliver what the consumer wants in a profitable fashion. The digital world is still in its infancy in many ways. There’s a lot of organizations competing for the same space - a situation that never really worked in print media either.

    With all due respect there’s way too much crappy journalism in the digital space. And that’s simply not acceptable.

    Perhaps there will be turmoil for a while. I hope so. I hope that consumers refuse to pay for less than they deserve. Some quality media will take hits due to bad management decisions of the unfortunate circumstances of their ownership. But hopefully in the end we all benefit. Hopefully this plays out with an emphasis on quality over quantity that is the opposite of digital media’s present mantra.

    The layoffs are not a symbol of the demise of democracy. They’re a symbol of consumers who are fed up with inadequate choices. Lots of choices, plenty of quantity, insufficient quality.

  • David Landau
    David LandauManaging Partner

    Great opening paragraph

    “Working in digital media is like trying to build a fort out of marshmallows on a foundation made of marbles in a country ruled by capricious and tyrannical warring robots. I’ve toiled in this business for nearly 20 years, and even in the best of times, it has been a squeamish and skittering ride, the sort of career you’d counsel your kids to avoid in favor of something less volatile and more enduring — bitcoin mining, perhaps.”

  • Jordan Olmstead
    Jordan Olmstead Product Manager

    I don’t think this is purely a content problem or an advertising economics problem. The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that social media organizations are a better environment than newspapers for aggregating content and allowing users to engage with it — media companies need to provide better platforms for readers and then they will stay.

    Companies like Gannet should have a proprietary platform licensed to local papers that allows readers to engage with news and social media content relevant

    I don’t think this is purely a content problem or an advertising economics problem. The bigger problem, in my opinion, is that social media organizations are a better environment than newspapers for aggregating content and allowing users to engage with it — media companies need to provide better platforms for readers and then they will stay.

    Companies like Gannet should have a proprietary platform licensed to local papers that allows readers to engage with news and social media content relevant to their communities. Such a platform could make promoting constructive engagement with media profitable, and democracy would benefit. If it takes a hedge fund to make these changes, so be it.

  • Gai Yamada
    Gai YamadaOut of my job for a while.

    It’s big changing the concept from “which company do you believe?” to “who do you believe?”.

  • Loel Larzelere
    Loel Larzelere

    I knew the writing was on the wall for Yahoo when they killed user-defined chat rooms and hobbled Yahoo Instant Message. That it arrived on Verizon's doorstep DOA is not a surprise after decades of bad management of superb assets.

  • Robert Wilkens
    Robert Wilkens

    ...but not a republican one

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