Are you done reading? Most progressive media companies believe you are. …What this means for an already fractured, ignorant society.
Over the last two months, a pair of new media companies have begun to abandon the written word and others are learning they can’t make ends meet with words only.
Vice on Friday was the latest to lay off staff who deal in words and phrases.
After taking a investment of $450 million from a private equity firm—under the guise of expanding staff and coverage—Vice did the exact thing private equity firms do once they take hold. They laid off. This round was about 60 employees, or 2 percent of its 3,000-person staff in North America and Europe.
The cuts were described as a re-allocation of resources, but they were in editorial as the site plans not only further expansion in India and South America but a move away from written entertainment, news and sports coverage.
Vice said it will continue to bolster staff for content produced by Vice Studios, which is the company’s scripted arm for entertainment for TV, film, mobile and digital platforms. In other words, they’re trying to jump on the Amazon/Hulu/Netflix golden age of streaming bandwagon …because lord only knows we need less hard news and more scripted series for no fucking reason.
Last month, MTV News laid off its long-form journalists in favor of proving its audience short-form and video pieces. The Viacom Media Networks company had re-made a name for itself doing explanatory journalism in the run up to the 2016 election, but is now backing off that business model.
The MTV News staff came to live in November 2015, soon after ESPN closed down its long-form online publication, Grantland. MTV News hired former Grantland editorial director Dan Fierman as well as his favorite writers and editors Holly Anderson, Molly Lambert, Alex Pappademas, and Brian Phillips. The site followed Grantland’s business model of mostly long-form pieces along with podcasts and some video.
In spite of the move to create clear, well-researched content, the move backfired. According to ComScore, viewership was down 64% for the period of October 2016 to June 2017 versus the period of October 2014 to June 2017. Time spent online during that time frame was down 59%. Traffic for editorial video streams was down 97%.
The site did have a resurgence this fall during and after the election, but by then it was too late for the writers and editors.
It is important to also note these Grantland (and now MTV) alums were spawned from Bill Simmons’ media empire. Grantland, after all, was his vertical while with ESPN. Simmons’ Grantland 2.0, The Ringer, (where he has re-hired back many of the above names) a long-form sports and pop-culture blog with no revenue stream—is a similarly listing ship.
The Ringer debuted in July 2016 with 1.2 million/mo. unique visitors. By May, 2017, those visitors were fewer than 300k and falling according to ComScore.
In March, The Ringer announced it would move away from Medium. Medium, the brainchild of Twitter co-founder Evan (Ev) Williams, let one-third of its workforce go in January. Launched in 2012, the platform was supposed to be journalism’s final egalitarian frontier as a blogging and networking site bolstered by name brands like Simmons. Didn’t happen for either side.
Since the move was announced, The Ringer has been acquired by Vox which will direct traffic to the site from SB Nation, the Shasta Cola version of ESPN (18 million uniques in June.)
But even Vox has been moving steadily toward quick hits (under 300 words) and video snippets. Long-form political pieces by rock star writers/talking heads like Ezra Klein are the anomaly not the norm.
In an era of a burgeoning dictator attempting to decry all media and investigations into his malfeasance in 140 characters or less along with Buzzfeed’s Tasty quick-fix recipes clogging your feed, it’s no wonder long-form is disappearing. Our brains don’t have the capacity anymore. But as a result, we’re slowly being drained of all the expertise we once knew as the key factor in making lucid decisions.
Consider the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development in New York is a wedding planner. The White House chief spokesman is a hedge fund manager. The chief scientist of the Agriculture Department is not a scientist at all, but a corporate mouthpiece science skeptic. A coal lobbyist is the recently appointed no. 2 at the EPA.
In today’s America, it seems, you not only can be anything but you don’t have to know anything to be it.
Therein lies the true danger.