Newspapers are becoming doubly toxic these days. More and more people are allergic, it seems, to the soy ink which was supposed to be cleaner than the lead-based linotype old-school newspapers were originally printed in. Life is full of ironies, right?
No matter, because fewer and fewer folks read print newspapers these days, anyway. Over the last decade, average daily readership has plummeted by 18 points (from 41% to 23%), according to the PEW Research Center. This isn’t counting people who read newspaper content on sites that aggregate news content, such as Google News or Yahoo News. By contrast, values are soaring into the stratosphere when it comes to digital companies like BuzzFeed and Vice Media, who are leaving print media in the dust as a result of a spate of savvy deal-making. More and more, most of the big boys among established magazine and newspaper publishing corporations like Gannett, Tribune, News Corps and Timeco are spinning off from owners who prefer to divert corporate profits toward the faster turnover on television, film and digital properties.
The media stars of the moment are BuzzFeed, the news and entertainment website which has exploded like a meteor on the back of the power of social media sharing. Valued by the hotshot investment firm Andreessen Horowitz at $850m, they’ve been rewarded by a cash injection of $50m, which will be used to increase its staff to a total of 550 employees, equip its video unit with the latest gear, offer a plethora of new content sections, centralize its advertising headquarters and hire what they call a ‘brains trust’ to form an in-house incubator for new technology and acquisitions.
The brainchild in 2006 of Huffington Post cofounder and CEO Jonah Peretti, it was a start-up focused on meme-driven lists, GIFs and videos. Much of BuzzFeed’s success is inexorably linked to the meteoric rise of cellphones accompanied by the ubiquitous rise of Twitter and Facebook. Indeed, in some ways it seemed as if BuzzFeed has turned your smartphone and iPad into a sort of central distribution warehouse for information to be picked up, sometimes reconstituted and shared in a custom manner worth as much per annum according to the Guardian as $100m this year. Although we all once had favorite books, magazines and newspaper content composed by writers and identified with them as such, the distinction between what exactly we choose to read for pleasure and the way in which we ingest it is becoming redundant. Thus the power of distribution trumps content every time.
Unfortunately, what this also means to snobs like me is that the fastest-growing form of so-called content shown online might suck you in with, say, a story on ‘Female Circumcision of Somali Immigrants to St. Paul’ from the Huffington Post, which sucks you into a relentless tsunami of syrupy videos and thumbnail photos series, or ‘33 Celebrities Who Got Fat!’ headlines, which come from Upworthy, Viral Nova, BuzzFeed and others.
Like it or not, your news is going to end up the result of algorithms made up for you without your even asking. Yet, simultaneously, BuzzFeed is broadening its base to be inclusive of ‘serious’ stuff, including serious news, business, technology and politics. Theoretically, all the just-hired fresh newbies at BuzzFeed, will be ready, willing and able to organize your day for you from the very moment you wake up until you fall asleep watching Breaking Bad. Yeah, Breaking Bad! It’s good and you like it, just like they said you would.