Digital News Media Has Fallen Off its New Millennium Perch

The toast of the early 2000s, many prominent news and lifestyle sites like Vice and Buzzfeed have fallen on hard times.

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Photo by Brusk Dede via Unsplash

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As they say in the news business, if it bleeds, it leads. So we’re leading with the news business, which has seen more blood than all 8 Dexter seasons combined. 

The digital news industry has suffered bankruptcy filings, widespread layoffs, and complete shutdowns. Big names like Vice and BuzzFeed may or may not be on the chopping block, but it’s unclear who’s buying.  

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Twenty years ago, investors, reporters, and readers were caught up in the excitement of digital-only news and lifestyle sites — online outlets that were meant to disrupt conventional journalism and provide hard-hitting content (as well as a lot of cat videos) with unique voices that catered to Brooklyn hipsters, helicopter parents, adventurous foodies, and all other sorts of modern-day archetypes. This resulted in sites like Vice, Pitchfork, and BuzzFeed becoming, well, buzzworthy. 

Jump ahead to now, and those same outlets are struggling to survive amid declining traffic and a lengthy downturn in the ad market. Condé Nast plans to have GQ absorb Pitchfork. BuzzFeed shut down its titular news operation in 2023, and its stock has plunged 97% since it went public in 2021. Last year, Vice Media, an outlet once valued at $5.7 billion, filed for bankruptcy before getting acquired by Fortress Investment Group for just $350 million. And now, The Wall Street Journal reports those latter two outlets are looking to shed even more weight:

  • BuzzFeed wants to sell its food-based sites Tasty and First We Feast — home of the hit YouTube show “Hot Ones,” where celebrities are interviewed while eating Buffalo wings — sources told the WSJ. In addition to revenue generated through ad sales, Tasty also has its own line of cookware, a distinct factor for the brand.
  • Vice bought Refinery29, a site focused mostly on young women’s fashion, in 2019 for $400 million. But now Fortress is in talks with prospective buyers as the site’s revenue fell to $30 million last year from roughly $50 million in 2022, the WSJ reported.

Fallen Angels: And we haven’t even mentioned legacy news media. The Los Angeles Times announced this week that it was laying off 115 employees — a fifth of its staff. The cuts come as the 142-year-old newspaper reportedly hemorrhages $30 million to $40 million each year due to declining subscriptions and ad revenue. That’s a lot of money even for its billionaire owner. The Washington Post, owned by another billionaire, is similarly losing tens of millions and slashing staff, too.