Leroy N. Soetoro
2019-02-12 20:19:12 UTC
Media companies favor competing with one another over finding what theyre
best at. Their employees have paid the price
As a young digital journalist in the late 2000s, my industry peers and I
often reminisced about the era we felt wed just missed: the glamorous,
fin-de-siècle age of New York media, the time of seven-figure budgets for
magazine launches and outsize editorial personalities that commanded
celebrity attention in New York. We were the ones scrambling to keep our
jobs afloat in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
As it turns out, we still had it pretty good.
The other evening, right after the brutal layoffs at digital publications
such as BuzzFeed and HuffPost were announced, I found myself in a dive bar
(of course) with a handful of the aforementioned elder millennials of
digital media. There should be 10 digital publishers, and now theres 70,
and were all fighting for the scraps, said one of them, a senior
business development executive at a digital publisher. And none of us
could say we didnt see this coming. Given the overstaffing, gargantuan
venture funding rounds, and heavily opinion-driven coverage that often
didnt bring anything new to the media landscape, it was clear that there
would be a reckoning with these new media publications.
No one had sounded the alarms. Or did they?
I now work in advertising. I left journalism for the dark side in 2011,
driven in part by concerns about the long-term stability and earning
potential of my job, but also because I was starting to pick up on
something new that I didnt like. There were too many of us doing the same
job. When I started reporting in 2006 on fresh new companies like Facebook
and Twitter, it was a novelty beat that sometimes came across to my senior
colleagues as a gimmick. Five years later, there were so many reporters
covering Mark Zuckerbergs every move that we scrambled to make our
individual interpretations as original as possible to the point of
hyperbole. Or we groveled for exclusive stories that frankly had no
business being in the spotlight. We got hooked on the cocaine of the media
Its only gotten worse, and it doesnt just plague those of us writing
about technology. Yet the warning signs had been out there. There have
been people talking about this long-term, and they havent been afraid to
be loud. The short version: media companies have gotten too addicted to
competing with one another rather than finding what theyre best at, and
theyre willing to prop themselves up on extremely shoddy business models
in order to do so.
One prescient voice has been Rafat Ali, in a previous career the head of
PaidContent and now the founder of travel business media brand Skift. In a
memorable tweetstorm in 2017, Ali posted one tweet after another about
the contract of irrelevance that digital publishers had undertaken, one
by one, by attempting to expand their coverage beyond their original scope
to the point that the brands that had made them famous and brought them a
loyal audience were completely diluted. This is what caused most of the
oversaturation that led to the cuts were seeing today. Time to focus on
what matters: building loyalties, both with users and advertisers (if
thats a constituency), focus on doing the things that build revenue base,
stay away from hiring diva-stars for the sake of hiring them, and focus on
quality as consumers are tiring off cheap tricks, Ali said. That was way
back in 2016.
Meanwhile, Fox Networks Group advertising chief Joe Marchese has also been
decrying bad practices in the media industry for years, whether its in
raising the awareness (five years ago!) of how much bogus traffic and ad
fraud threaten the industry or the extent to which digital platforms
exaggerated their actual reach. (Disclosure: I work for the company
Marchese founded, having been drawn to the role in the first place because
of his insights about just how badly the media industry was screwing up.)
Investing millions into social media video was a distraction at best: The
audiences were questionable, the ad revenue was even more questionable,
and publications were left at the whim of platforms that didnt always
have their best interests in mind.
Combine these unsustainable business practices and an obsession with
getting the latest woke millennial opinion pieces the ultimate
clickbait! and you have doomed industry.
Whats saddest is that many of the reporters whove seen their jobs cut
have been seasoned writers covering important subjects. Many are talented
journalists and I hope they land somewhere that values and appreciates
their work. It seems very unfair that theyre casualties of the fact their
employers have just realized that they cant be everything to everyone.
But if theres a lesson to be learned from this, its that those of us on
the business side shouldnt hesitate to tell our editorial colleagues
about what we do and how we operate. This was taboo for decades, but in an
era of digital disruption, it no longer stands. As a young journalist
interviewing for jobs, I wouldnt have known that I ought to consider
massive rounds of venture backing, an enormous hiring spree in the name of
expansion, or a heavy reliance on viral and social traffic to be red
flags. I know now.
It seems evident in hindsight that when it came to this new breed of
publishers, the highs were going to be high and the lows were going to be
very, very low. Being digitally native, it turned out, didnt mean these
companies were immune from the same fates that befell their analog
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Congratulations President Trump. Thank you for cleaning up the disaster
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Under Barack Obama's leadership, the United States of America became the
The World According To Garp.
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Obama jobs, the result of ObamaCare. 12-15 working hours a week at minimum
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Obama increased total debt from $10 trillion to $20 trillion in the eight
years he was in office, and sold out heterosexuals for Hollywood queer
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