Buzzfeed News’ shutdown shows corporate media won’t save journalism

When corporate media makes revenue king, it hurts both journalists and the audiences they serve.
The inside of Buzzfeed's newsroom in New York City. Red walls surround white tables, which sit on a dark gray tile floor. Red chairs circle the tables. The Buzzfeed logo, an upward arrow, is emblazoned and visible on the rightmost wall.
Anthony Quintano/Flickr.

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This past Thursday marked the end of an era: Digital media outlet Buzzfeed News is shutting down

It’s a huge loss not just for the close to 200 employees losing their jobs, but for the news landscape in general — Buzzfeed News reporters doggedly covered the internet and social media as they became home to communities where social justice movements and right-wing misinformation both took root. 

The outlet gained consent from Stanford student Chanel Miller to post her full trial statement to her attacker in 2016. And its investigations department covered stories from the real human cost of Amazon’s next-day delivery to broken promises from the nation’s leading psychiatric service provider. Its comprehensive style guide gave reporters a tool to navigate rapidly evolving internet verbiage at a time when most major news outlets neglected to take online conversations seriously — a condition mainstream coverage still suffers from today, especially when outlets and individuals alike see social media as separate from “real life.” 

But much of the brand’s fall is a result of management’s failure to invest in the news and investigations division, which previously survived downsizing in 2017 that shut down its in-house audio department in favor of looking to video-on-demand and social media content in its relentless pursuit of clicks and revenue

Though Buzzfeed is a publicly owned company, it isn’t immune to the same problems that plague privately owned, corporate media helmed by billionaires. News wasn’t profitable, so it got cut — a reflection of an industry, not just an outlet, that values placing profit over people. 

Cooperatively owned newsrooms and unions are important, making it possible for workers to build power within institutions, employee protections and developing contracts that hold companies to humane treatment of their workers, even during layoffs. But even moreso, journalism at large must shift away from a model that relies on the truth that “billionaires have always owned the media”, accepting memos from executives that start with an apology and don’t end with redistributing wealth or stepping down. After all, Buzzfeed was gutted despite its strong union.

When ownership of journalism outlets is concentrated in the hands of the ultra-wealthy — despite outlets’ individual editorial independence — neither journalists nor audiences benefit. It’s sad that Buzzfeed’s shutdown happened the same day Twitter’s blue checks’ transformation, heralded by the site’s owner Elon Musk, is complete, taking the badge from a symbol meant to verify their identity online to a signal someone has an extra $7-12 a month. 

At a time when fascism is on the rise, it’s dangerous that industry leaders continue to litigate “objectivity” while there are greater stakes: Journalists are being discredited, whether online or through losing their jobs. The foremost platform for marginalized journalists, writers and communities to gain traction and audiences when critiquing media, access work opportunities, and find community given the lack of protections during the ongoing pandemic is falling into disarray. Trans and queer people are clearly under attack — despite some major newsrooms failing to cover that with clarity, gravity and care. Newsrooms, for all their promises of diversifying themselves, remain primarily white across all beats, and where they have a diverse reporter corps, there’s still segregation between reporters and editors

Now is the time to look to independent media and reporting that adheres to values through action, not just name. Acknowledging and analyzing what’s happening together, in collaboration, not competition, is how journalism must move forward. Traditional models — for supporting newsrooms, for building diversity — aren’t working: In many cases, they may be perpetuating the same systems of oppression that keep the status quo alive. But that shouldn’t warrant giving up, or rolling over and thinking the status quo is “good enough.” We have to believe in a better media if we want to build it.

If you’ve been impacted by layoffs or want to help those who are: Journalist Kati Kotal in partnership with Poynter built a site for journalism mutual aid with resources to help coordinate aid for laid-off reporters.

Inside the Newsroom is also offering free trials to its journalism jobs board. DM @InsideNewsroom_ or email [email protected]

This piece originally came from The Front Page, our twice-monthly newsletter on that examines systems of power and inequity in journalism. Subscribe here.

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The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices. We are written by and for those underrepresented in journalism.

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