News is making a comeback. New models of journalism are rising at sites like BuzzFeed, Vox Media, and HuffPo. These sites have staffs approaching 500 people and make hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and are part of the trend of aggregating news readers to a few national sites.
BuzzFeed makes nearly $200 million per year, approximately a third of the revenue for the Associated Press. That’s pretty good for a free service. HuffPo makes $150 million, and Vox Media makes $160 million. All are approximately break-even enterprises, so the owners see a better future.
Let’s address the obvious issues with bargain journalism sites. These sites prioritize fast, free and potentially faulty news. Also, people are ditching local daily newspaper subscriptions for free news on these news sites and their social feeds. So local races, levies, taxes, and even sports teams, are under reported.
Let’s look at faulty news. Pols bend the truth to suit their needs, but we’ve reached a new low. The Washington Post found 8,158 false or misleading statements in the president’s first two years in office. Some people may accept the falsehoods as long as the consequences don’t impact them immediately. Immigration, North Korea, Israel, or the results of the 2016 election, for that matter.
Bargain news sites play fast and loose with facts. BuzzFeed got in hot water when Robert Mueller’s office had to take the extraordinary step in January of correcting BuzzFeed’s faulty story on the Russia investigation. Fact checking means getting a second source to corroborate a statement from a first source. It means naming the sources when possible. At the NYT, fact checking and article review teams may be five people deep. This is also why NYT newsroom payroll ballooned to $300 million and 1,600 employees in 2019, far beyond the reach of any news organization anywhere.
But BuzzFeed and others aren’t looking for perfection. Consumers are okay with news that tries to be right eventually. News sites can just update the post with new information as needed. The model for success in the modern news business is speed and frequency. It satisfies consumer interest in a way that old 24-hour news cycles never could. The opportunity for news sites is delivering stories fast and free. It’s not a replacement for fact checked journalism, but it’s growing and it’s the future of journalism going forward.