Lessons from Vice and BuzzFeed

Photograph by Pixabay.com and found at Pexels.com

As you probably know, on February 1 Vice Media confirmed that it would lay off 10% of its staff, shedding around 250 people. BuzzFeed clearly wanted to join in the fun, as its CEO, Jonah Peretti, announced the media company would lay off 15% of its staff, letting go of around 200 workers worldwide.

What may be causing this? According to Keach Hagey and Lukas I. Alpert from the Wall Street Journal, and research by eMarketer, Google, Facebook and Amazon (to be known as GFA henceforth) captured a combined 62% of the digital advertising in the U.S. last year, leaving the remaining 38% to other media companies. With similar numbers, Brian Wieser showed that G and F accounted for 73% of all digital advertising in the U.S. during 2017. Regardless, if you’re not G, F, or A, you only get to fight for a seat at the kid’s table.

Although I don’t know how much of the digital advertising market is captured by GFA worldwide, it’s clear that BuzzFeed in particular is feeling the crunch. BuzzFeed’s Mexican branch shaved off the entirety of its news section whilst leaving all other areas unaffected. I guess it must really sting to be a journalist and be laid off while everyone on the meme and personality tests departments gets to keep their jobs.

In Spain, however, cuts were particularly drastic as BuzzFeed closed all its operations on January 25. In all honesty, if you speak spanish and have a few minutes to spare, take a look at the last tweets from BuzzFeed España, and you’ll quickly understand why its death was a done deal.  On a similar note, from what I understand BuzzFeed has also ceased its operations in Russia. All I can say is that Russian women are cute, Russian men are on the scary side, but they all deserve better than BuzzFeed.


Let’s get back on topic. Is this truly surprising? No, not the scary Russians, but the lay offs happening. The way I understand all of this is that there are several key factors at play:

  1. Most of the digital media websites that experienced lay offs rely on advertising to survive. They may attract traffic with entertainment and information, but their real value is as billboards for digital ads, and they must therefore attract the greatest web traffic possible.
  2. Web traffic is determined by search engine referral and by social media activity. Both of which Google and Facebook dominate, respectively. As an aside, consider how this could contribute to deplatforming and censorship.
  3. Content saturation. Next time you log in to Facebook, YouTube or Twitter pay attention to how often the same points are made in different postings. Chances are that most commentators and talking heads are making the exact same argument, seemingly word for word. The same thing is true for other websites (the author of this blog keeps writing as if there was no such thing as self-awareness). Why, then, would you subject yourself to the same words, over and over, if the first couple of commentators made themselves understood?

Last thoughts: While “researching” for this post, I read several references, from personal blogs, to news websites, to reporting done in other countries. Out of all that, can you guess how often I read the exact same sentences, in the same order, while getting the exact same information? I won’t tell you, because I think you already know the answer.

See you next week.