The Fall of Buzzfeed News: A Win for Online Media?

Stacey Kaliabakos ‘23

Chief Opinions Editor

Last week, it was announced that BuzzFeed News, the digital news outlet that utilized the growing power of social media to take the internet by storm during the mid 2010’s, is closing down. Arguably, the termination of Buzzfeed News marks the end of the digital media upstart movement that simultaneously enlisted the talent of a whole new generation of young journalists and threatened the success of legacy news organizations like CNN and The New York Times. Journalist Oliver Darcy of CNN even called the BuzzFeed News writers of the 2010’s the “cool kids of the industry” and claimed that their content slowly began to dominate the internet while also poaching popular and skilled journalists at other established outlets. 

The roaring success of BuzzFeed News that we saw a little less than a decade ago can be attributed to the early growth of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. Unlike their newsroom competitors, Buzzfeed leaned into the uncertainty of new opportunities provided by the growing Internet and did not hesitate to tap into different virtual platforms (like social media apps) to captivate the attention of their audience.

Although that was a successful strategy for a couple of years, with Buzzfeed arguably reaching the height of its success in 2015, their strategy in content-making has grown stale and unappealing to their old audience and has alienated potential new readers. One can only consume so many articles on celebrity gossip that are basically just a series of Twitter screenshots accompanied by very basic commentary. And when one is supposed to consider that content “news,” the tension only grows. Additionally, Facebook is generally becoming an outdated platform for traffic and revenue, while the ever-changing landscape of Twitter since its acquisition by Elon Musk has presented overarching challenges to the BuzzFeed News brand.

Jonah Peretti, the co-founder and chief executive of BuzzFeed, basically admitted this problem in his memo to staffers on April 20, 2023 when he accepted blame for the closure of BuzzFeed News. Peretti said that he was “slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media.” Ben Smith, the founding editor of BuzzFeed, was more explicit in his own statement, telling CNN: “I do think it makes really clear [that] the relationship between news publishers and social media is pretty much over.” We can see this growing gap between news and social media exemplified in the rise of TikTok, which is a social media platform whose success is grinding many outlets that previously held a lot of power in the media world to dust due to its accessibility and the insanely wide range of content it offers viewers. 

Even without taking social media sites into consideration, external factors are partially to blame for the downfall of Buzzfeed News. It is no secret that since at least 2019, layoffs have plagued both BuzzFeed News and BuzzFeed in general, with higher ups in the company slashing the investigations team and shrinking the newsroom’s size greatly both in US offices and abroad. Ultimately, the move to kill off BuzzFeed News does not bode well for BuzzFeed at large either– its stock did tank 20% upon the announcement going public. BuzzFeed News, though imperfect and arguably prone to publishing clickbait content at a higher frequency than other outlets, gave BuzzFeed writ large prestige that the other similar content companies did not have. As Darcy said, “BuzzFeed used to boast that it didn’t just do silly quizzes, but also invested in serious hard-hitting journalism. What is it now?” We may just have to wait and see.

Featured image courtesy of buzzfeednews.com BuzzFeed News Poster

Categories: Opinions

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