Web-based journalism has almost endless possibilities. Personal blogs. Unique news websites. Niche-market websites. Endless cat GIFs. The Internet has it all.
Unfortunately, even with this new online world of opportunity, the only plausible way to financially survive long-term points to being bought out by one of the “big guys.”
Back in the early stages of the Interwebz, AOL bought 85 different blogs, including Engadget and Autoblog. In 2011, AOL dug further into its pockets and acquired TechCrunch and The Huffington Post. Without that financial backing and online resources of AOL, I wonder if these sites would still be operating.
This is the problem.
Instead of these startups being their own unique entity, these new content companies are “visibly all the rage.” Even though Buzzfeed’s success is widely known, an article in the New York Observer predicts that “Buzzfeed is almost structurally destined to repeat the banal narrative of every capitalist love story: grow, grow, grow, and proof — sell the highest bidder.” Is Buzzfeed worth more than the $315 million The Huffington Post was sold for?
Part of the reason for these takeovers is technology and more resources. The controversial outlet, Vice, has spent most of its history in its own house and making its own rules. From just a print magazine to a worldwide media company (hence, Vice Media), Vice has let others be a part of the fun. In 2013, the outlet sold 5 percent of the company to 21st Century Fox. The reason — global exposure on different forms of media like television.
“I want us to be the next MTV, ESPN and CNN rolled into one — and everyone always rolls their eyes,” Shane Smith, Vice’s co-founder and chief told the Financial Times. “The reality is that MTW was bought by Viacom and CNN went to Time Warner. We have set ourselves up to build a global platform but we have maintained control.”
Although this sounds a little like, “well everyone is doing it so why don’t we,” I think this is a smarter decision. Fox has not taken over Vice. Fox didn’t buy Vice out. Vice recognized where they were weak (television) and decided to act on it. While they receive help from Fox in all the ways they want, Vice continues to have the ultimate control of what they are producing online and in print — not some huge conglomerate.
Huge companies aren’t necessarily destined for success either. Take Yahoo for instance. They have all the resources and more to compete and/or beat Buzzfeed.
Buzzfeed has 500 employees. Yahoo has 13,000 employees and 4,000 contractors, according to Forbes.
The difference? A clear focus.
In a press release, Kenneth Lerer, BuzzFeed’s Executive Chairman said, “The future of content companies is crystal clear: mobile, video, social and tech.” Boom. Drops mic.
This is something Yahoo didn’t have. Instead, they were off spending $2 billion for Tumblr — a choice that hasn’t done too much for the outlet.
Altogether, the online landscape is a tough world to live in. Outlets don’t just have to be creative in their content, but how they allocate resources and financial support.