The digital publishing industry took a big hit in recent days, when more than 1,000 employees were laid off at BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo and HuffPost. Vice Media started the process of laying off some 250 workers on Friday, and Mic, a site aimed at younger readers, axed much of its staff two months ago before a competitor bought it in a fire sale. Coupled with recent layoffs at Gannett, the company behind USA Today and other dailies nationwide, the crisis in the digital sphere suggested that the journalism business was damned if it embraced innovation and damned if it didn’t.
The cuts at BuzzFeed were the most alarming. Wasn’t this the company that was supposed to have it all figured out? Didn’t its team of wizards, led by the M.I.T.-trained chief executive, Jonah Peretti, know tricks of the digital trade that lay beyond the imagination of fusty old print publishers?
Chris Hayes, the author and MSNBC anchor, summed up the bleak outlook with a tweet that asked, “What if there is literally no profitable model for digital news?”
The in-the-moment doomsaying was understandable. But look past the gloom, and a complicated narrative emerges that does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all interpretation of What Went Wrong or a handy forecast of journalism’s future.