BuzzFeed Shows Top Writing, Millennials And Ad Blocking Don't Mix

The issue of the week in the media press is wondering what the fallout is from BuzzFeed shedding 22 editorial jobs this month. Campaign goes as far today as having a selection of experts answering the key question -- does this show quality journalism can no longer be funded by advertising?

As ever, I feel myself raising a few points. For starters, what about the local press titles that are regularly, between them, losing these sorts of numbers every week? When it happens to a well-known digital site, it suddenly seems like major news. Well, I am unhappy to reveal that this has been happening on the nationals for quite some time, and more so in local media. Yet it remains relatively unreported beyond the excellent Press Gazette

There's also a problem with "no longer possible." I'm left wondering whether there was ever a time that a quality journalism site was funded by advertising. When you think of a decent online-only publication The Huffington Post springs to mind. But they have a bad name for not paying guest writers. I'd like to suggest right here and now that there is not a national or local paper that wouldn't bite their arm off to be given free content. It's hard not to make money from something you get for free, isn't it?

There are several other well-known sources that people trust, but if they knew how poorly they paid freelancers, they would be surprised. Take a name that writers want to be associated with and then pay them nothing or very little so you get "exposure" and you can't fail but monetise their content. 

The online-only sites that are aiming to smash the traditional publishing model for millennials are all suffering. Staff and budget cuts have recently landed across BuzzFeed, Mashable and Vice. 

To stick with BuzzFeed, there are some very obvious reasons why. 

To begin with, millennials are the generation most likely to block ads. It gets up to one in three male millennials, according to IAB UK figures. So if that's your audience, a third have turned off advertising. 

Secondly, it's one thing to do some funny observations about people who own cats or what Star Wars character your initials mean you are. It's quite another to hold people's attention with long=form quality journalism. It's so much more expensive to produce and only the real top-hitting scandals you expose will ever go viral, whereas every pointless quiz with a sexual innuendo is likely to be a big hit. 

Thirdly, there is a flight to quality. I picked up on this around a year ago as I saw subscription-based sites claiming their numbers were up and The Guardian appeared very chuffed at the swelling of the ranks of its voluntary GBP5-a-month supporter scheme. 

Things aren't great for the big traditional news outlets -- don't get me wrong. But they are improving. Digital revenues are up, but  crucially, so too are subscriptions. Many also have well-established native content sections to help ends meet because they are realising the question Campaign asks today is slightly off.

The issue isn't whether quality online journalism can still be paid for by solely advertising. It's more subtle than that -- it never could. It has always been a case of advertising supporting other revenue streams, including events, subscriptions and native. 

Any new publisher that tries to go from lighthearted virals to long-form quality journalism funded mostly by advertising will always struggle, particularly if their core audience is where most ad blocking takes place. 

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