In a dark two-week stretch for publishing, more than 1,700 media jobs were eliminated at newspapers and online media companies through buyouts and layoffs.
On Friday, McClatchy Co. offered voluntary buyouts to 450 employees, while Vice Media Inc. said it will cut 250 jobs. Last week, BuzzFeed began laying off about 200 employees, while the media unit at Verizon Communications Inc., which includes the Huffington Post and Yahoo, planned to slash about 800 positions. Gannett Co. let go more than 20 people last week at its newspapers.
It’s the latest round of downsizing in an industry that’s grown accustomed to it. From 2008 to 2017, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped 23 percent to 88,000 from 114,000, according to Pew Research Center. Most of those losses happened at newspapers, whose readers have steadily moved online, hurting once-lucrative print-advertising sales.
The primary mistake most digital publishers made was to imagine that platform companies, and particularly Google and Facebook, had any serious interest in helping them sustain their businesses. The amount of data large platform companies collect and control enables them to offer far more efficient advertising than any publisher, and the business of making online content profitable is rigged against anyone who wants to run even a sparsely resourced newsroom with experienced reporters.
[Buzzfeed founder Jonah] Peretti’s memo to staff after the layoffs was instructive about what would be needed to be sustainable: “We can build a profitable media businesses on top of Facebook and YouTube,” he writes, “but only when the content we make is high quality, with massive scale and relatively low production costs.”
Whatever this content might be it is unlikely to be in-depth investigative reporting, which is neither cheap to produce nor generally something that attracts “massive scale”. If BuzzFeed, Vice and other digital publishers who suffered despite a booming advertising market cannot make the social web work for them, it is likely that those who do will not be reliant on advertising.
Around four-in-ten U.S. adults (43%) get news from Facebook, according to a survey conducted in July and August 2018. The share of U.S. adults who get news through Facebook is much higher than the shares who get news through YouTube (21%), Twitter (12%), Instagram (8%), LinkedIn (6%) and other platforms. Among U.S. adults who get news from Facebook, women are more likely than men to do this (61% vs. 39%), as are whites when compared with nonwhites (62% vs. 37%).