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The Buzzfeed Lesson (stratechery.com)
121 points by misiti3780 87 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 155 comments

I am still waiting for a good micropayments platform to allow me to support arbitrary web sites with relatively low-friction (and high-privacy) small payments to consume their content. I would happily pay $0.25 or thereabouts to read articles on some of the sites I consider to be good content creators.

That said, I have somewhat high expectations. E.g., I would hope that such a platform doesn't take too large a cut (e.g., Apple app-store sized cut) because that's offensive to both readers and creators.

I'm not optimistic that this platform will ever exist in the West. Micropayments is effectively blocked by the credit card industry with their high fees and a widely used micropayments platform would essentially disrupt the credit card industry - why would anyone pay Visa 1.9% if the new platform was sending payments for a fraction of a cent? And any player large enough (e.g. Apple) to deploy such a platform would rather not piss off Visa.

In China, where credit cards never existed, they already have a micropayments infrastructure. Sending payments is massively cheaper there and some businesses there, such as Podcasts are way more successful due to this model. Some podcasting subscriptions are sold for 1 yuan (15 cents)[1].

As long as Visa/Mastercard exists, I don't think we will see this come to the US. I wouldn't hold out for crypto either - it's not a technical problem. The technology has existed to make this reality for years.

[1] https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinese-show-willingness-to-pay...

This is certainly a problem, but I think examples like video game microtransactions and HQ Trivia payouts prove it's not unsolvable. $1 transactions at a 30% cut sound harsh, but are clearly capable of supporting companies. Or, if a trusted intermediary is available, micropayments can be batched into a few larger charges. This is definitely harder if you're going to leave money with consumers, who can cancel before a batched payment with little downside. But it could probably be managed, or people could be persuaded to pay a larger sum into a clearinghouse in advance.

The easiest approach might be to partner such a service with an existing alternate payment processor. Lots of people are already content to leave a few lunches worth of money in Venmo, which would both reduce payment fees and streamline the mental effort of buying articles. And cynically, an auto-refill setup would also reduce people's awareness of how much they were paying.

There are still major hurdles for this model - do you serve content and then hope you get paid? Do you offer refunds on articles people dislike? But I think the actual transactions can be managed, and I think the clearinghouse model could potentially resolve a lot of the other issues besides. As a quick example: 'refunds' for bad articles become vastly easier when haven't paid a transaction fee and can blacklist people who abuse the mechanic.

I never understood credit card fees interaction with small transactions (eg shops with $10 min); if its a perfentage fee, what does it matter how small the individual transaction is? Total revenue is hit by it all the same

A billion from micropayments and a billion from one payment should be equivalent..?

You're right about the general case; a restaurant running two $50 payments or one $100 payment usually won't see any difference. But a thousand $1 micropayments produce more overhead (and more risk) than one $1000 payment, so below some threshold it's not worth handling them. As a result, most card processors have rules to either block that payment pattern or raise costs on it.

Common approaches include:

- Caps on monthly transaction counts

- Caps on monthly payment amounts, with usage monthly fees

- Flat costs added to percentage fees

- Percentage fees with a minimum charge

Similarly businesses which know they'll see numerous small payments mostly just charge enormously high fees. The Apple Store and Google Play both take 30% transaction costs, and I suspect they pay their processors noticeably more than the common ~%2 rate despite their size.

Credit card transactions typically have a percentage component and a fixed-fee "swipe" component. So on a $10 charge, the vendor might pay 2.9% ($0.29) plus a $0.30 swipe fee.

Crucially, the swipe fee is the same if the transaction is $10, $1,000, or $1. Micropayments are hard to make work on top of this infrastructure because the payment network eats up 60% of a $1 transaction and nearly all of a $.50 transaction.

What's stopping an online bank from setting up their own system?

Comparative advantage. The amount banks could earn on their traditional products and services dwarfs whatever pennies they'd scrounge up by creating a B2C Patreon replacement.

Completely disagree. Having to make a purchase decision is stressful and a cognitive nuisance. I'd much rather pay $10 a month for Netflix and not think about it, than $.20 to watch an episode.

I fret much more over subscription purchases than one time purchases. They can be annoying to cancel, they can be forgotten, and they can be heavily underutilized. In fact I think these attributes are a cornerstone of the business plan.

I'd love to know what the demographics of this split are. I feel precisely the same way, but the success of e.g. microtransaction games suggests that it's not a universal view. Whereas for me, microtransaction games are worth either 0 or 1 transaction and then I never even contemplate further payments.

(Hating small purchase decisions might be a common view, since microtransactions are all about long-tail profit exceeding a normal purchase price. But I'm still curious what the demography looks like.)

Netflix would prefer you do this, too. In subscription models, you are almost guaranteed to be paying more than you're using. Only when a service is first starting and trying to attract subscribers is it likely you are paying less than you use.

How do you measure the value or cost of how much someone uses for s product like Netflix? Compared to equivalent iTunes purchases, a Netflix subscription is inexpensive. If you are referring to the bandwidth, the cost is close to zero anywhere.

No, I'm not talking about bandwidth. iTunes isn't generally selling one-time access, but perpetual ownership (kinda) of a single episode. This accounts for the outlandish $2 per episode sort of thing.

A non-subscription model for a Netflix service would be closer to fractions of a penny per view.

Fractions of a penny per viewing can only refer to bandwidth costs; it's 1-2 orders of magnitude too small to cover the costs of producing or licensing a show, let alone Netflix' other fixed operating costs.

Everything Netflix talks about is getting users to spend more time watching shows, not less. They certainly want subscriptions because they make more money, but they do it by aggregating a ton of content into one subscription and providing it at effectively no variable delivery cost. The result is that users pay less per hour watched than can be provided by anyone a la carte.

I don't follow your reasoning. Whatever the delivery costs may be, they don't determine the service cost. That's determined by value to the customer (though delivery costs sets the minimal viable service cost).

Their adherence to a subscription modivates the view of getting users on the platform for as long as possible, regardless of what they're watching. A pay per view model would twist motivations another way.

Yes, that is my original point I wanted to make in disagreement with you. Netflix does not make more money off a subscription because of underuse, they make money because of, if anything, overuse which is possible because the value to the watcher (some number below the a la carte rental price of $2-5 set by competitors) greatly exceeds the variable cost of providing the view of the show (nearly $0.)

Netflix mainly has fixed costs from licenses. The marginal cost of delivering another video to a subscriber is negligible. They want you to keep watching and stay engaged.

What happens when Netflix no longer carries your favourite show, and now you're paying $X for a service you use less and less?

You eventually quit. That's only one purchase decision compared to many. Even if you evaluate the decision every time a show you like gets pulled, that's still less financial decision making than paying per piece of content.

It's a great use-case for Cryptocurrencies: low transaction fees to send micro-amounts of goods across the network.

That seems like part of what Brave is trying to do with the BAT: Use BAT split among websites based on the amount of time you spend on each site.

I'd rather see a self contained library that allows websites to easily insert a button which lets you tip 0.02c or whatever to them with a single click. No idea what you'd need to do to create something like that, but it seems like a really compelling way to get people to spend on sites they like. A tiny amount of pennies sent via crypto with the press of a single button could be a sizable stream when you've got scale to it.

In fact it's not a good use-case for Cryptocurrencies because as it stands today, it takes approximately 10 minutes to resolve a transaction in Bitcoin.

You can explain this problem away with appeals to floating networks that ride on top of bitcoin, eth, like lightning etc...however it's unclear why those would be any better than a lower cost ACH or other debit processing system.

I tire of saying this in response to people who believe that credit and debit cards are "instant" but they're not. They take up to a day or two to process and clear and for money to actually change hands. The only thing that's instant is the check to see if you have the funds to cover the transaction. In this case even BTC's on-chain processing of 10 minutes is pretty darn fast.

As you said, other crypto solutions including Lightning Network, ETH, etc are faster and will be able to scale to orders of magnitude more transactions in the near future.

It's not a transaction though, it's a donation. Time to resolve is nothing here, it's fire and forget.

On top of that ACH or other systems require you to put in real banking information rather than having it be a separate wallet you use to pay.

It allows a more complete separation from payment processors.

Check out IOTA. In theory (and so far in practice) it solves the problems you describe. It does not yet have as solid a theoretical foundation as blockchain currencies, though, so there's higher risk that it turns out to have some flaw that nobody's seen yet.

Or just work out some hack around the existing transaction fee systems.

Nano is perfect for this type of transaction. Quick and free.

Wouldn't the volatility of cryptocurrency be a reason that companies wouldn't want this as a primary method?

Don't get me wrong, the value of USD, GBP, or YEN can rise and fall relatively quickly. The conversion rate of GBP to USD dropped from about 1.40 GBP/USD to 1.20 GBP/USD in the span of a year. But cryptocurrencies can cause devastating losses. BTC dropped nearly 30% from Dec 2017 to late Jan 2018, and it has been on the decline ever since. It seems that the only way for a business to confidently convert BTC into the 0.25 USD would be to do nightly-ish transactions.

I'm familiar but not well versed in BTC operations. I don't know how much overhead (fees) would go into nightly transactions, and how much the fees would rise with the volume of each transaction.

>Wouldn't the volatility of cryptocurrency be a reason that companies wouldn't want this as a primary method?

Correct. There are so many cryptocurrencies out there, and scams are so widely perpetrated that it's absolutely insane to keep any significant amount of money in it.

In the case of MTGOX it's like the world's largest bank just blinked out of existence. A company could be insolvent overnight. At least most major governments have incentive to keep their shit together for fear of a societal collapse.

Mt. Gox was a Magic: The Gathering trading platform that accidentally ended up being "the largest bank in crypto". So Mt. Gox shares more in common with early, early banks, of which many did fail.

At any rate, the current dominant examples like Coinbase do not seem to share the same problems as Mt. Gox and having watched a security presentation by one of their executives, I believe they have great practices to prevent hacks.

Sure, but are they backed by the FDIC or anything equivalent? (no) What happens if they are compromised? (your money is gone forever).

Actually yeah Coinbase is an FDIC insured bank. Any USD you have on there is insured.

Somehow Overstock.com has been accepting BTC as payment for several years and they've been more than enthusiastic about it.

https://help.overstock.com/help/s/article/Bitcoin https://www.overstock.com/blockchain

Not sure whether they are instantly selling the coin or keeping part of it or what. I suppose it would depend on a company's risk tolerance. In the case of digital content, I might be willing to accept the volatility risk in exchange for access to a relatively untapped market and supporting a censorship-resistant monetization platform.

Stable coins, like DAI and USDC also offer many of the benefits of crypto ecosystem with nearly zero volatility relative to the dollar.

I read it as news sites using cryptocurrency as a primary method to avoid high transaction fees.

When it's a secondary method, it can be used as a way to invest in a growing market. You can potentially react to volatile changes in a currency if it's part of an investing strategy without worrying if your company will fold overnight. If it's your primary means of accepting payment, then your income is essentially tied to the volatility unless you cash out immediately.

Stable coins would be the obvious solution, but then I wonder what's the drop rate of someone who is only familiar with BTC and not other coins?

Part of why the overhead doesn't matter here is because bitcoin wouldn't be used: It'd be some other crypto, like BAT (which is what Brave uses).

The goal would be to make this a ubiquitous system (which is what Brave is trying) where users would have a wallet of BAT where each "coin" represents a small easy to exchange tip.

Users can buy BAT wherever, recharge their wallet and tip micro amounts to websites.

Brave currently just has a BAT wallet with recharging that doles out a percentage of each token to whatever websites you visited based on amount of time spent there.

If the system is ubiquitous enough, the volatility will go down as more people are seeking to purchase the coins.

The coins will have a limited supply which is subject to a minimal amount of inflation as defined by the group which works on it.

In this case, would the only use of BAT (or something similar) be avoiding transaction fees as a high percentage of small transctions? For example, Visa charges 1.5% of the transaction + $0.10. The transaction fee on a $0.25 micropayment would be $0.10375 - a hair above 40% of the transaction. Otherwise, what is the value add of BAT compared to storing payment information with a vendor or someone like Stripe?

The best form of payments ever to support journalism was classified ads. They brought in tons of cash and they were shunted to their own section of the publication so they were not obtrusive.

Also, and this cannot be overstated, they were often fun.

Sometimes brute force is what's required to get people to cough up their payment details. iTunes had people paying $1 to buy individual, DRM-ridden (since removed) tracks at a time when Limewire and BitTorrent were popular.

I believe it was partially the UX that got people spending. For example, ITunes won't grab album art for the tracks in your library by default. You'll have to have an iTunes account with a registered CC number. Retrieving the art is free, but it can't happen without those payment details. I dislike looking at collections that don't have the art displayed, so I put in my CC.

So now, when you're exploring the interface and come across some new music/movies you're interested in, the friction involved in purchasing is near-zero; point, click, confirm the purchase and it's yours.

At some point, someone will create a CMS plugin of some kind that adds a "purchase this article for $0.50" banner and handles the payment processing and fees. The challenge will be to incentivize users to put their details in.

Then you might be interested in Brave (brave.com). Their cut is 5%.

I really like the concept but I don't use it because it doesn't support the mac KeyChain.

There is a reason why we don’t have any VC investments in the media, or for that matter, in the content creation on the internet. The reason is because Google and FB monopolized search, advertising, and more importantly, surveillance of individuals. So, the website that caters clinical information to doctors competes with Candy Crush, because doctors get served relevant ads on games, etc.

In the early days of internet, we had plethora of new media networks. No more. The same with science websites, smart websites for children, hobby websites, etc etc. Big tech is killing content on the internet, and instead we have fake news controversies and privacy scandals.

This is very serious stuff for society and democracy and knowledge.

PS https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/28/tech-monopolies-are-killing-...

Edit. Think about it: Google and FB have 80% share of the ad market, and they actually don’t create the content. The rest 20% goes to all the publishers from the entire world.

Who is "we"? There are tons of VC investments in media.

No, they are drying up quite quickly. Consider this:


For the media industry, with the investment group shutting down, one of the biggest backers of digital media companies over the past decade has backed out.

“What are the bets being made in publishing and content companies and ad tech right now?” said a former executive at a company that was invested in by Time Warner Investments. “There’s zero. It’s just not happening.” [1]


And it makes sense, tbh. Most of such investment failed - mashable, mic, buzzfeed, huffpost. Problem is, it seems that media just does not produce unicorns which will allow you to pay for failed investments.

[1] https://digiday.com/media/warnermedia-shuts-investment-arm-t...

Ok, which ones? Give me examples.

The Athletic, Gimlet, Cheddar, Scroll, Piano, Tastemade...

Out of these, I have heard of only Gimlet Media and that's because I'm neck deep into podcasts.

A number of HN comments have pointed to the internet-native advantage Buzzfeed (BF) had, and that the layoffs are disconcerting or puzzling in this respect. It's a fair and natural point. However, there are a number of fundamental shifts occurring as the digital economy grows as a percentage of the total economy. Many companies misaligned to these on-going shifts will either change or go under.

Shouldn't an internet-native company already be well aligned to these shifts? Not necessarily. For instance, one of the shifts underway is the increasing transience of markets. That is, markets are created, undergo change, and die-off at an accelerating pace. This is just one fundamental shift underway, there are others, and companies will not exist very long if merely a portion of the company is aligned for this new environment.

I always wonder how one arrives at such conclusions with this kind of confidence. Are you reading and essentially consolidating a lot of your acquired knowledge? Is this the tenor observant people are agreeing upon at conferences? Are you in some kind of overview position?

I am merely asking because from my perspective I feel I could never conclude such things and I have no idea how it happens?

I don't understand your question. Alternatively, if you're making an argument, then I don't what your argument is.

Earlier he said the world needs good journalism and therefore journalism needs a good business model.

I see this sentiment often but I see no support for it. There is no link between the premise and the conclusion. Plenty of things in the world have no business model: much fits under the umbrella of philanthropy. Others are provided by government, which provides some things for which there used to be a business model but now isn’t (public transportation for instance).

So it is with journalism. Philanthropy for instance could support it. So could government. In the US the idea of government doing this raises hackles, but it’s not uncommon worldwide; see the BBC for instance. Even in the US you see some journalism funded with government and philanthropy (Frontline on PBS.)

BuzzFeed sucks, their journalists were providing benefit to the business, so they pivoted.

This isn't about BuzzFeed "sucking".

But rather, about its screwing over its employees while trying to appear "hip" and "anti-establishment".

Can we move on?

Until Jonah digs into his piggybank and coughs up the backpay owed to his laid-off employees - no.

What backpay is owed to employees? If you're referred to unpaid PTO, if it was in their employement contract I agree. Otherwise, just another case of clueless millennials signing contracts without reading them.

What contract? Why do you mention one?

"We have no vacation policy, you get as many vacation days as you want!"

The article is correct that competing for the kind of content that you find on the front page of glossy magazines in the supermarket lines is a race towards the bottom on the internet.

The article is also correct that this is because online aggregators unlike supermarket tabloid stands present no supply line incumbent advantage.

Offline content is a combination of ads plus upfront price. That requires some form of friction and seems to be where content is moving. This fits better with the necessary expectations of incumbent content providers that their way of reaching customers should have some incumbent distribution advantage, because in the end it needs to be a stable job for people providing the content and for the shareholders taking the risk of providing the company that create those jobs.

The simultaneous layoffs in many news outlets prove they lost access to a common source of funding, perhaps that source was something like Countering Foreign Propaganda and Disinformation Act which recently expired.

Why are we acting like a journo company laying off 1000 people is the end of the world? Are people not aware of how many other companies across many sectors have layoffs all the time? This isn't news. BuzzFeed sucks, their journalists were providing benefit to the business, so they pivoted. Can we move on?

It's more than that. buzzfeed is essentially a type of media company, one that is suppose to 'survive' in the new landscape where aggregates like fb, and google dominates. to learn and understand why it is struggling has more implications not just to the long term viability of journalism, but also to how aggregators dominate and there fore, should be regulated, and what can company do in a age where controlling demand is much more important than controlling supply.

One way they could have survived was by not cheerleading for CNN, NYTimes, Washingtonpost, etc when the big boys were demanding fb, google, etc censor content and instead drive traffic to "authoritative" sources ( AKA themselves ).

People forget that smaller media firms like Buzzfeed, Vox, Huffpo, etc all thrived under a neutral FB, Google, etc. Remember when these companies were supposed to be the "new media"? What changed?

Buzzfeed did this to themselves. They demanded that fb, google, etc censor and pick favorites and they chose the big boys over buzzfeed.

What buzzfeed didn't realize is that their competition isn't infowars, breitbart or foxnews. Nobody who read those sources would ever waste their time on buzzfeed. Their competition was the NYTimes, CNN, MSNBC, Washingtonpost, etc. Now that buzzfeed has successfully helped these large media companies get preferential treatment with FB, Google, etc, there is really no room for buzzfeed. The big boys took buzzfeed, vox, huffpo, etc's market share. I bet these large "authoritative" companies are seeing a rise in traffic and increasing ad revenue. I wonder where that increase is coming from? Infowar fans? Highly unlikely.

This is a very astute take. Buzzfeed had its interests more aligned with Breitbart than the NYT all along. Yet they continued to attack not just Breitbart but everything within a political event horizon surrounding it.

There were arguments that Buzzfeed was attacking it's potential readers for political reasons to their own detriment. I think the meme "get woke, go broke" hints at this. The question is why did they and so many other new media outlets let ideology get in the way of their own success?

maybe people are finally sick of trashy clickbait tabloid articles?

Not only that, but we really don't need journalists in the traditional sense as much as we used to. It wasn't even that long ago that newspapers and TV were people's eyes and ears. Now anyone with a phone can record video of events as they happen, and anyone with a YouTube channel can report on the news and make political commentary for a mere fraction of the overhead that media firms operate on.

This isn't to say that there isn't value in traditional journalism, and I think the viability of member-supported radio is a testament to that. But the old guard of for-profit journalism is obsolete, and it's quickening its own death by going hog-wild with unverified sources, hit pieces, and lack of fact checking.

we really don't need journalists in the traditional sense as much as we used to

Are you under the impression that government corruption and injustice are things of the past?

Now anyone with a phone can record video of events as they happen, and anyone with a YouTube channel can report on the news and make political commentary for a mere fraction of the overhead that media firms operate on.

Except that we live in a world of deepfakes, astroturfing, and a dozen other reasons not to trust what is posted on the internet by any random person.

And building on my comment above, Random Joe isn't going to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating illegal arms sales, contract fraud, or hundreds of other things that big journalism companies do routinely.

member-supported radio is a testament to that

Member-supported radio doesn't cover 1/1000th of what local newspapers do.

I think you may not understand the value of professional journalism, past and present, perhaps because you haven't been exposed to it, or its consequences.

> Are you under the impression that government corruption and injustice are things of the past?

Oh, come now.

> Except that we live in a world of deepfakes, astroturfing, and a dozen other reasons not to trust what is posted on the internet by any random person.

And professional journalists are going to be immune to these things? A lot of the time, journalists actually repost what they see on Twitter and YouTube. I suppose that in an ideal world journalists would wise up in the face of deep fakes and trust their various sources a lot less, but caution != profit.

> And building on my comment above, Random Joe isn't going to spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating illegal arms sales, contract fraud, or hundreds of other things that big journalism companies do routinely.

I don't agree that you need Big Journalism for that job to be done. Individuals in the press who are outside Big Journalism, as you put it, can do the same job independently and for a fraction of the cost.

> Member-supported radio doesn't cover 1/1000th of what local newspapers do.

Sure, local newspapers have an edge over public radio, but you can also use that same argument against Big Journalism, which despite its resources can't do the same job that local newspapers do.

> I think you may not understand the value of professional journalism, past and present, perhaps because you haven't been exposed to it, or its consequences.

That's not a fair assessment at all.

I don’t comprehend the romance of journalism like the parent comment, especially in light of a Harvey Weinstein scandal which revealed he had a payroll of journalists. These are people that are profit motivated like any other human being, and will often kiss the ring rather than shine light upon it.

Idealism often dies when people start owning larger personal responsibilities.

Are you under the impression that government corruption and injustice are things of the past?

I'm under impression that government corruption and injustice has little to do with kim kardashian reaction gifs. Yes, I know about Buzzfeed News, see below.

I think you may not understand the value of professional journalism, past and present, perhaps because you haven't been exposed to it, or its consequences.

Yeah, no. I can give you one recent example of professional journalism. Series of articles by John Carreyrou about Theranos, which were later followed by "Bad Blood" book.

Buzzfeed had 1700 (!) employees, as of Dec 2017, according to wikipedia.

Had the whole buzzfeed, news included, produced anything remotely comparable?

Do not degrade professional journalism by comparing it with Buzzfeed.

I actually think we need curation a great deal nowadays - there is definitely a market for it, if nothing else. The massive amount of chaff 'content' is hard to wade through. Your second paragraph is dead on, though.

Curation is a solved problem: # of retweets/likes/upvotes.

That's popularity tracking, not curation.

It is curation of the most popular things, which in turn are the ones that matter to most people.

Maybe in the sense of articles it can be of benefit, but with video or images it can be bereft of context which can stray, intentionally or not, towards misinformation.

To me, this reads like someone saying "You don't need graphs if you have the raw data"

Journalists, in their true form, turn data into information.

That is more important than ever in our context free world of video snippets and misleading quotes.

I do agree that we need raw data. Sadly, we're not getting enough of it, and part of the cause is the speed of the news cycle; it's far more expedient for someone to write prose than spend the time gathering raw data, making sense of it, and distilling that data into graphs.

my latest theory is that people like participating in the news cycle more than they are inclined to consume it. click-bait and fake news lets people instantly rage / share, where as good journalism would be valuable to people who want to pause, comprehend and have an outlet that isn't just sharing, raging, etc.

which is probably why even big brand journalism hasn't really changed. the list of outlets that i block on twitter and apple news (the latest of which is forbes, for yet another installment in their "latest iPhone update has a NASTY SURPRISE" articles) grows weekly, but i can't get out of the clickbait content tsunami.

> my latest theory is that people like participating in the news cycle more than they are inclined to consume it.

That's an interesting observation. It seems like how most people who watch sports have little to no interest in playing themselves, even recreationally, but they "join" a team because of the sense of participation they get. Not sure if that's the best analogy, but it's reminiscent for me.

In a world where everyone has a video camera in their pocket and AI can generate deep fakes, maybe we'll come full circle to where traditional gatekeepers are needed once again to verify the accuracy of the information out there.

I think this is a large part of it. At some point I stopped falling for clickbait titles, unnecessarily drawn out slide show style articles, etc. These days, the automatic response I have is to block sites which waste my time. If that kills off sites which peddle such crap, maybe the media landscape will improve...

I do my best to, but the number of news sources which treat my time as important is dropping fast. It's all about the quick buck these days. hn is a great filter for tech stuff, which is a big part of why I'm here~

do you instead pay for a good, reputable source of news?

I tried the Wall Street Journal Online, since I think news about money is more real, but their website wasn't very good [1], I think there's still hope to get paying subscribers if the online reading experience is more pleasant.

1) Right now WSJ has three columns of text because they want consistency with their hardcopy, but it doesn't feel right for a laptop.

Do you have any suggestions? Are there any reputable sources remaining? Not sure I could trust any single source ever again. Not enough to pay for it anyways.

Associated Press, Reuters, Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg.

AP has had a lot of "opinion..." in it's feeds over the last couple years. I used to be a big fan of their uncurated "Raw Feed" but they decided that was not something they wanted to expose any longer.

The others are ok sources but still too much opinion mixed in for my money. Can't somebody just give us the facts?

> Bloomberg

What happened with that story about the magic Chinese spying chip, found only on SuperMicro motherboards sold to Apple? Did they prove it true? Did they retract it?

There is a point about this, if I can't trust them with things I have an idea about, how can I trust them with things totally foreign to me?

axios, economist, and this very article you're reading. i also read bill bishop's newsletter, very good as well

Some of the journalists who used to work for companies like Buzzfeed have joined the YouTube cottage industry of reporting as an independent journalist. Unlike 90% of the mainstream news media, these individual journalists are not owned and controlled by six billionaires. They make their living via the tiny percentage of their audience that is willing to pay them through sites like Patreon. The recent Covington mis-reporting by the mainstream media should start to wake people up regarding the need to receive one's news from independent journalists. Regarding specific recommendations... He's a little more left wing than I'd prefer, but I'd still recommend Tim Pool's YouTube channel.

i'm not sure if you're trolling..but i'll bite. buzzfeed has done a lot of good, real journalism. the trashy, click-bait articles in a way is funding good journalism, which, if you purely consume buzzfeed through fb or something like that...you might think that is all there is. besides, you should read the article, not just the headline. as ben addresses your issue in the opening paragraph.

the trashy, click-bait articles in a way is funding good journalism

The problem is that the trash tarnishes the brand its reputation. Buzzfeed may do great things, but I won't read any of it because the overwhelming majority of what it publishes is crap, and I never know if a headline is important, or clickbait.

It's pretty easy to tell which side of Buzzfeed the article comes from. The investigative side has proper titles while the clickbait ones have a "Click here to see these 10 crazy news titles, #7 will blow your mind" kinda title

This is sort of true - you can at least discern the listicles - but even their Pulitzer-nominated work has titles like "From Russia with Blood" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much".

I'm not inherently against those titles, even the NYT gets a bit cute with their longform stuff to draw in readers. But it is a bit more frustrating when there are lots of vacuous articles to sort through; it's still pretty hard to discern their investigative stuff from the fluffy longform pieces.

In principle, BuzzFeed could just be a site with deep news coverage alongside fluff, not much different than a newspaper with real news, comics, and 'society' pages. To some extent, Buzzfeed even managed that: their BuzzFeed News subheader has lots of award-winning content without garbage listicles.

Of course, the BuzzFeed News imprint has a whole section devoted to R. Kelly right now, and seems to be aiming no higher than a CNN or USA Today mix of hard news and fluff. Add to that the occasional bout of serious hackwork written in their "real news" style, and I'm not overflowing with hope.

Perhaps more to the point, it looks like this composite approach didn't actually balance the books, or we wouldn't be seeing layoffs right now.

From a branding perspective, that seems like it would be doomed to failure. They can capture some of the younger demographic but completely alienate anyone who already who already pays for the news. For example, I personally find Buzzfeed News articles to be more sensationalist than most reputable newspapers, but that's probably because I subconsciously am more skeptical of anything that comes out of buzzfeed.

> the trashy, click-bait articles in a way is funding good journalism

I used to be pretty optimistic about this model, starting around the time Buzzfeed hired Mike Giglio from Newsweek and started doing in-depth stories on Syria. After all, traditional newspapers run cartoons and ads; even the NYT runs an extensive Features section. BuzzFeed looked like a modernized version of that same practice, with its fluff model updated to interest an online, click-based audience instead of a subscriber on Sunday morning.

But these layoffs call into question whether clickbait is in fact a way of funding good journalism, or whether Buzzfeed was just converting investment money into respectability. Buzzfeed overall is cutting staff 15% over multiple rounds of layoffs, but Buzzfeed News already dropped 17% of staff in round one. The entire teams for national news, national security, and health went, as did the Spain office. Maybe tellingly, the entertainment desk kept two staffers.

I think it's still an open question what the role of serious longform work is for Buzzfeed. One narrative says that the individual readers value both investigative and fluffy content from one source. If that's true, good reporting isn't an act of charity. It's just low-margin content produced to keep readers (or maybe staff?) in the same way that grocery stores sell staples like eggs basically at-cost while they profit elsewhere. Another narrative says that listicle readers (and writers) don't care about the presence of serious coverage (at least from Buzzfeed), so if any part of Buzzfeed News isn't running a profit it's not advancing the company.

(Even more broadly, I think it's an open question whether there's any known way to profit on mass distribution of investigative journalism. It seems to rely on patronage models, outright charity, or in a few areas contract work like Bloomberg Terminal.)

Award winning reporting right here:


They have indeed gotten nominated multiple times for the pulitzer award https://www.pulitzer.org/finalists/staff-buzzfeed-news

BuzzFeed and BuzzFeed News are different in this respect.


It's worrying, because it's another indicator that journalism is fucked (BTW, BuzzFeed is known for clickbait meme-crap, but BuzzFeedNews was surprisingly serious publication).

While it was easy to dismiss failures of pre-internet publications as merely failing to adapt to the new medium, BuzzFeedNews was Internet-native, and still failed.

It's interesting to see so many new businesses forget the lessons that previous businesses learned. Brand identity and trust used to be the foundation of businesses, and at some level (I'm not sure what level) it still is. Even as someone educated on the differences between BF & BFN, I still never knew how to take BFN seriously with all the regular crap on BF. I don't really feel like it's my job to figure out how they fit together, and it would have been pretty simple just to completely split the brands if they actually wanted to have the two faces of the company. To the average internet reader, there was no difference between BF and BFN. People have either always known, or are learning (however slowly) that they can't vet every story themselves and they have to trust. BF corrupted that with their two faces.

> Brand identity and trust used to be the foundation of businesses, and at some level (I'm not sure what level) it still is.

I think that was much more the case when the brand was the only brand. When the company lived or died by its chocolate, or single brand of appliances etc, even if the founder was gone, I think a lot of care was taken. Now a brand is commonly one of 10 or 30 in a portfolio, I don't think there's much care left.

When the parent has a dozen appliance brands you can play loose with the trust of any or all. Half the product may be little more than badge engineering. When there's dozens of food brands in the book, or the market leading brand gets bought, it's virtually certain they will be worse than they used to be. Often quite a lot. The perception of the brand might carry that for years.

BF is an odd one as it's trying to become a respectable news outlet, without letting go of the junk that made them. Now the perception has to go the other way, up. A much more difficult move.

The appliance makers are particularly insidious. They have cheapo brand and luxury brand, but luxury brand is often just slightly modified cheapo brand. As people get wise to this, suddenly luxury brand becomes the new cheapo brand and ultra-luxury brand is the new must have luxury brand. Cheapo brand goes away (end of life!!) so time to upgrade!

At least (for now) if you buy a Samsung or LG you know who to be pissed off at.

It is weird how things have flipped, but at the same time makes sense if you look at it from the bean counter's view. It used to be that companies would start with the luxury brand. These would cost premium prices, and would last in a time frame in line with their prices. They would then take features away (or just disable them) to make the lower tiers. Sometimes this meant replacing a metal something with a plastic something. The prices would be cheaper reflecting the missing options. It might not last as long, but it was a fraction of the price. Now, it seems like everything is just a cheap plastic something, and the entire thing is cheap enough to just buy a new whole thing instead of repairing the broken component. The prices are now in the middle pushing back up towards the premium pricing, but for much lower quality product.

Makes sense if you don't mind killing the golden goose. Same sales with far more profit, but only until public perception catches up with the reality that the big brand is now as bad, or worse, than some cheap competitor.

Sometimes you only need to buy the reformulated market leader once to realise there's no reason to ever buy it again.

Vehicles too. Buy the same bearing where the price depends on whether it comes in a VW, Audi or Porsche packet. Touareg vs Cayenne.

Trust may turn out to have been a 20th century concept.

Well perhaps Buzzfeed News shouldn't have had the word 'Buzzfeed' in it. I mean, most large companies make sure their brand names are far more distinct than that...

(like Buzzfeed's equally dodgy counterpart, News Corp and its different newspaper/news site names).

I’m not sure that the average internet reader knew the difference between buzzfeed, buzzfeed news, the New York Times, and any random fake news site a 16 year old threw up.

At the time, my view was that, Buzzfeed, and others, were just attempting to ride the tsunami of free Facebook traffic for a wildly bloated valuation in hopes to hoodwink a legacy media company into buying them before the party ended. They spent what would have been their profits, and then some, on shining their turds. It was a gamble and they mostly lost.

The layoffs in this case are especially unusual as they are indiscriminate: BF employees with years of experience at the company and championed the company’s growth have been hit.

Here’a a new post by the Director of Quizzes who was laid off: http://www.fluxblog.org/2019/01/how-laid-off-are-you/

I love how fun his former title of Director of Quizzes sounds, but it's so sad to read his reflection that a random user in Michigan has been producing free content that has driven so much traffic to Buzzfeed that he's redundant.

They're good at getting their message out and submarining things.

We need to stop calling people who write articles about memes or what random people are saying on twitter "Journalists".

Your listicle is not defending democracy, and confusing these two groups has led to a great devaluation of trust in the remaining real journalists.

That was the takeaway I got from reading this thread, a BuzzFeed person discussing BuzzFeed contributions: https://twitter.com/katienotopoulos/status/10896299402266296...

> Wonder why suddenly quizzes took over your Facebook? That was because of @LouisPeitzman, who made one viral quiz that unleashed everything else (he probably can apologize to you personally for that).

This isn't a layoff of journalists, its a layoff of custodians of low-brow content farm writing. If that's all, then the main problem in the journalism-apocalypse is that these people were called journalists in the first place.

I clicked on the twitter link, I don't know why really, I probably shouldn't have

> "A bunch of people were laid off (and more to come! Fuck!) who quite literally created and shaped the internet as we know it today."

I think this what people mean when they talk about Poe's law https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poe%27s_law. For a short while I thought I was reading a parody.

> "BuzzFeed changed the internet, for better or worse (if you say worse to me right now please eat my ass)," ... "They gave moral clarity, heart, and a mission that was never craven click-lust, but driven by serious consideration of humans"

It seems the team builders there failed on the moral clarity bit. At least there is more work to be done, but time has run out it seems.

It's interesting to observe how confident they are that they shaped the internet for the better. Something tells this is not an anomaly and most of them share that belief. This is a great example self and group brainwashing. And notice the part where if you disagree with them, you get immediately attacked. Clearly the qualities of a sophisticated investigative journalist, ready to report news in an unbiased and objective manner.

From what I'm hearing, the people producing listacles are keeping their jobs, because they can just shovel out content at low cost and sell ads. Meanwhile, real journalism takes time and doesn't always pay off, so its high cost.

It's also very important to delineate between Buzzfeed the site (which is effectively a trash tabloid the likes of what you are likely to find near the grocery store checkout), and their news org, Buzzfeed News, which is probably at least decent (except for their recent reporting on the Mueller investigation with no evidence) and where the layoffs seem to be happening.

In either case, these are venture capital firms without a working profit model, I think the main Buzzfeed site has resorted to selling cooking ware to capitalize off the popularity of their recipe sections.


I don't disagree with your sentiment, but I've flagged this comment because it's the sort of drama bait I'd expect to see on other sites.

Your impression of BuzzFeed is about five years in the past. Their news team have been doing some exceptional investigative journalism, and in the UK at least their politics reporting is some of the best out there. They were shortlisted for a Pulitzer last year for their (pre-Skripal) investigation into Russian assassinations in the UK.

Buzzfeed is still very much like that.

Buzzfeed News is a separate org, and to be honest, the sharing of the brand probably does more harm to the new org than good even though its done some respectable reporting in the past.

They may be separate, but the job cuts have hit them too.

Buzzfeed front page right now:

“It’s time for the ultimate Asian food showdown” (3rd headline)

“Here’s one reason some vegan meals could still be harmful to the environment”

“This trailer for the movie on serial killer ted bundy has raised a lot of eyebrows”

“This guy had the best response after someone said his tinder profile was ‘lame’”

Buzzfeed and Buzzfeed News are two different sites and operate separately, they just share the name, the OP was conflating the two. As you pointed out Buzzfeed is still largely garbage.

I was ignorant of that, my bad.

However, took a look at BuzzFeed News and its front page wasn't much better.

I have to largely agree. A lot of the downfall of Buzzfeed and to an extent HuffPo is that a significant amount of their content is poor quality click-bait. Beyond that is a lot of content based on feelings over facts. Most of all, the majority is poorly edited with significant grammatical and spelling/terminology errors.

I, personally would rather far more facts, research and understanding over emotional rants that give no regard to actual truth in reporting.

>Most of all, the majority is poorly edited with significant grammatical and spelling/terminology errors.

This annoys me to no end, but from all websites. The websites are so concerned about being "FIRST!!!!" that their articles are littered with incomplete sentences, incorrect use of words, etc. I'm sure these are articles that are meant to be iterated on to get the final product, where the writer intends to revisit for cleanup or review by an editor. However, it always seems like there is no editor role, or the pointy hair bosses scream for an article to be pushed now, clean up after its online. Or maybe it's like software "let the end users QA for us"?

I just finished re-watching the final season of the The Wire where they spend a lot of time in the newsroom. Of course it's television, but seeing the interaction of the editors trying get the writers to fix issues was pretty glaring in light of online publishing.

You might be confusing buzzfeed with buzzfeed news. Buzzfeed news is a recognized legitimate journalistic organization that has been nominated for and won many prestigious journalism awards (they were finalists for the 2017 and 2018 Pulitzer Prizes in International Reporting, for example).

So only those who "defend democracy" are real journalists? Which in turn also means all journalists have to be biased...

Reread the comment. The parent is saying that the list isn't one that defends democracy because it conflates traditional journalism practices (researching, writing conclusions, etc.) with what is essentially creating memes and polls and giving opinions off the cuff. Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but it says nothing about journalists needing to "defend democracy" in their writing.

But looking at your (short) post history, you seem to be all about one liners and skimming versus reading before making a comment. So I'm likely correct here since I read into it slightly.

My point is that there are good reasons that our culture traditionally has treated journalism as a 'noble profession', in that it is a necessary component of a functioning democracy with the ability to disrupt entrenched power structures and make truth known.

I'm highly skeptical of 'new journalism's focus on the emotional reaction people are having to a piece of news rather than context, impact, and analysis. I think that this new style of journalism does not accomplish 'speaking truth to power' and further often serves to amplify voices that reinforce the views of the most powerful. Being a PR-mouthpiece is not noble.

Thus, I think it is harmful to refer to 'new journalism' as journalism because it is quite distinct in both nature and effect, as it blurs the lines between something regressive and something noble.

It's a bunch of people with insane degrees (literally a PhD in "romantic comedies", WTF why is this even possible) living in places they can't afford and writing nonsense.

These people loved telling factory workers and especially coal miners to "learn to code". You could tell there was a certain smug glee, taking perverse pleasure in the fact that aging white males (can't imagine any of the other coal miners) in MAGA hats (all coal miners wear them all day long, right?) would have to get educated and somehow enlightened.

Now these writers are annoyed that people on Twitter are saying they should learn to code. Well... that's just funny, and very well deserved.

Personally, I'd rather they didn't all learn to code. Steel mills are hiring. Mao said to make steel.

Please don't take HN threads on trollish tangents. With all respect to the forces of 4chan, it's off topic here.

While I think learning to code would be a great option for lots of these folks if they want to make a career change (both the journalists and coal miners). It does not need to be specifically triggered by a layoff.

With that said, "people on Twitter are saying" is somewhat disingenuous when there was an active and coordinated effort to target journalists that had been laid off with exactly this phrase "learn to code" by 4chan users.

You can even see them coming out of the woodwork in the green posters below. They want to doxx and harass others online but don't have the stones to even voice support to such behavior under their actual tags.

You say 4chan, but its reddit and other forums, its just other people on Twitter bandwagon-ing. If they can be so callous when others get laid off maybe its good they get a dose of their own medicine given they seem to be speaking from a place of entitlement. Journalists have a bad habit of feeding the trolls as well. If you respond to it, they don't seem to realize this encourages them, or perhaps they do and they want to further elevate how victimized they are by this "targeted harassment".

> If they can be so callous when others get laid off maybe its good they get a dose of their own medicine given they seem to be speaking from a place of entitlement

Care to cite some examples of BuzzFeed employees displaying such callousness?

Do you want me to pull up every article? Its not Buzzfeed, its the media/journalists. I believe one of them said coding was a blue collar job now and beneath them, more or less.


Yea, no. This was centrally directed by 4chan and explicitly targeted at the individuals laid off buzzfeed and huffpost.

Like any profession or trade there will be individuals more skilled than others, and individuals more honest than others; although not always both at the same time. As it stands your eagerness to paint all journalists with the same brush is likely causing people to (consciously or otherwise) discount your argument outright. Even worse; a certain subset of the population is going to be actively antagonized by this language because it so closely resembles language used by a politician that they have very strong negative animus towards.

Would your disdain for an entire profession be as vigorous if the layoffs were occuring en masse at Breitbart or Fox News?

I wouldn't care because they're just as biased.

Buzzfeed and to a large degree HuffPo was a clickbait outrage yellow journalist organization. They make news for ratings, not to inform, they go for outrage.

If it was were the AP or Bloomberg or some org that reported primarily the information and facts of a matter, I might be concerned.

There are some good journalists being let go, but they'll likely land on their feet. But I'm not upset that Buzzfeed or HuffPo are slowly going under. They do more harm for democracy and an informed populace than good.

You say lead by 4chan. Do you know how 4chan works? Did you watch the video, its not just 4chan. Besides, 4chan is just a bunch of trolls, why would you get upset as a public figure, by trolls. Twitter is a cancerous cesspool, like 4chan, if you don't want to read that stuff, just stay off of it. You shouldn't take it seriously, but I do agree that journalists can be callous towards others in the same situation then suddenly incredibly sympathetic when its happening to themselves.

I do know how 4chan works. It's a very well trodden trope that 4chan is easily manipulated, rushes to conclusions on impartial or inaccurate information, and has a predisposition towards group think that very often will contrive ways in which 4chan users can exert influence on other parts of the internet through sheer numbers. (online polls, brigading vote based aggregators, DDOS attacks)

Yes, but you also described groups on Twitter and reddit, which makes it hard to pin down where its all coming from. There is no lead by 4chan, 4chan has no leader, 10-100 people on a thread on 4chan isn't "lead" by 4chan, its more likely the larger portion doesn't care, and doesn't participate. So if some are from 4chan, some are from reddit, some see it happening on Twitter and decide to join in, why do you think its entirely 4chan lead or that its everyone or even the majority of people on 4chan? Again, still, don't feed the trolls. Reacting to it is what the trolls want, and you'd think they'd know better by now than to react. Instead something that happens on the Internet everyday (something that isn't even that bad, like telling someone to learn to code), is being made into another thing to write another fake outrage clickbait piece to create a controversy where there is barely notable that no one cares about and people wonder why these companies are going under. They just want to put the blame entirely on one platform they dislike, because that's what's fashionable for outrage clickbait.

If their version of harassment is some trolls telling them to "learn to code" that's just more of the overly dramatic, hyperbolic reporting that got me to discount them as legitimate news to begin with, and if anything makes me feel like laying them off was probably the right choice.

Central direction is redundant. No response could be more obvious than "Learn to code!".

> These people loved telling factory workers and especially coal miners to "learn to code".

The focus "coal miners" is comical. There are some 69,460 coal mining jobs in the US[1], 15,900 of them "blue-collar". That's less than the number of people who work at Google[2]. I get that this is usually shorthand for blue-collar workers. But at the same time very real energy policy decisions are being made ostensibly to keep this small group of people in their jobs. Investing in better access to retraining is probably a better move.

[1] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2017/03/20/t...

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/273744/number-of-full-ti...

How is a PhD in romantic comedies any more ridiculous than a PhD focusing on the works of Ovid, Aristophanes, or Shakespeare?

One of these things enriches society and sheds light on the universal experiences in human existence.

The other fuels consumerism, depression, and relegates women to either damsels in distress, objects of conquest, or abuse victims.

> The other fuels consumerism, depression, and relegates women to either damsels in distress, objects of conquest, or abuse victims.

I wonder in what ways, and what are the effects of such depictions. If only there was some group of people interested in researching such a thesis...

Are you really going to argue that Greek plays/literature treat women well? I mean, I love the Odyssey but it has a part where they literally hang a bunch of women for having sex with the wrong men and then chop off a male servants genitals.

The basis of western thought and canonical English literature versus 'You've Got Mail'. Yes there is a difference.

"You've Got Mail" is based off an extremely influential play from 80 years ago. I'm sure there is real analysis that could be done on it.

Parfumerie, by Laszlo, inspired The Shop Around the Corner, In the Good Old SUmmertime, She Loves Me, and more.


You've unfortunately posted a lot of unsubstantive comments to Hacker News. We ban accounts that keep doing that, so would you please stop?

In addition to https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html, you might find these links helpful for getting an idea of the spirit of this site:





Surely it's good for society to have somebody studying these films.

Arguably PhDs in those subjects aren't that useful either and they just seem respectable because they've been around a long time. Many things would seem ridiculous if they were brand new but become respectable and accepted through age (see: new religions vs old religions).

But in the case being referred to here, it's not just that the subject being studied is ridiculous, it's the reasons she studied it in the first place:


Several issues here:

1) She knows nobody cares and studies it anyway. Not a smart move. At least you can argue some people might care about a PhD thesis on the works of Shakespeare.

2) She directly tackles the question you raise and the answer deserves ridicule:

"Why study romantic comedies? They’re formulaic and predictable and light and fluffy. Everyone knows how they’re going to end. They don’t mean anything. Why devote years of my life to them when I could be studying The Odyssey"

Hmm, good question. Because:

"Well, for one thing, I’m interested in stories about women. And all those abovementioned stories, those stories we take so seriously, those 'real' texts, are about dudes."

To recap - she admits that she did a PhD in a subject nobody cares about, studying texts that "don't mean anything", for no better reason than because more useful or meaningful texts involve men. In other words - it's gender studies. The stereotype that people with gender studies degrees find it hard to stay employed is being proven true right here.

It is interesting to note that the Buzzfeed Opinions desk in particular was completely removed and every single person involved with it fired.

The author lost me at "Back in 2015 I wrote that BuzzFeed [Was] the Most Important News Organization in the World."

do you know who this author is?

who is it? i don't see an author listed on the page.

Well it's a one author site. It's Ben Thompson, he has been doing this for quite some time and is an important figure. Here is the about page: https://stratechery.com/about/

There is also his Wikipedia which gives a good amount of info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Thompson_(writer)

ben thompson, this is his site

'journalism' and publishing is always about advertising revenue, and historically the big platforms with the most reach (Murdoch's tabloid newspaper empire, TV) were the big money earners because of number of eyeballs and ears served. There are no barriers to publishing online today but it is still all about the platform and number of people using it, and that platform today is arguably Google and FB/Insta/WA. Who creates and writes the 'journalism', however cogent, perceptive and well thought out is largely irrelevant. How often do you remember who specifically actually wrote an article on a site like Buzzfeed? You do a lot better building a niche brand like stratechery as Ben has done...

"The inferior product is advertising"

Got that right. Partly because adverts are boring and uncreative ... much like Buzzfeed

"now advertisers ... can reach the exact customers [at] Facebook and Google."

That has yet to be demonstrated. Was it ever true? Is it still?

"Back in 2015 I wrote that BuzzFeed [Was] the Most Important News Organization in the World... So what went wrong?"

I glance at many newsfeeds every day. I found little value in Buzzfeed. So, you were wrong.

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