NY Times' Manjoo: BuzzFeed Struggles a ‘Democratic Emergency,' 'Reason for Panic'

January 31st, 2019 7:35 PM

New York Times opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo mounted a silly defense for BuzzFeed, which recently cut staff, in “Media Layoffs As Democratic Emergency.” The column’s text box: “Last week’s job cuts suggest a reason for panic.” Emergency? Panic? Over what? A listicle shortage, perhaps?

As technology columnist, Manjoo had a troubling tendency to play left-wing Twitter cop, including hinting that President Trump could face “censure” on Twitter for failing “to promote a healthy public conversation.”

Now he’s worried about the decline and fall of that vital democratic-building journalistic titan -- BuzzFeed:

Working in digital media is like trying to build a fort out of marshmallows on a foundation made of marbles in a country ruled by capricious and tyrannical warring robots. I’ve toiled in this business for nearly 20 years, and even in the best of times it has been a squeamish and skittering ride, the sort of career you’d counsel your kids to avoid in favor of something less volatile and more enduring -- bitcoin mining, perhaps.

Or “learning to code,” if that’s not offensive:

It might be tempting, then, to dismiss the recent spate of media-biz layoffs as unfortunate but otherwise not concerning. Two hundred workers, including dozens of journalists, were given the slip last week at BuzzFeed. About 800 people are losing their jobs in the media division of Verizon, the telephone company that owns Yahoo, HuffPost, TechCrunch and many other “content brands.” And Gannett, the once-mighty newspaper empire that owns USA Today and hundreds of smaller outlets -- from The Bergen County Record to The Zanesville Times Recorder -- is letting go of 400.

But it would be a mistake to regard these cuts as the ordinary chop of a long-roiling digital media sea. Instead, they are a devastation.


Coming in a time of economic prosperity, at world-historical levels of interest in the news, last week’s cuts tell a story of impending slow-motion doom -- and a democratic emergency in the making, with no end in sight.

But it’s the “democratic emergency” of losing BuzzFeed that was dearest to his heart. Manjoo dug for positive contributions from BuzzFeed and came up with two, both silly:

It’s the cuts at BuzzFeed that sting most. You may regard the site as a purveyor of silly listicles and inane quizzes. I think of it as a relentlessly experimental innovator: It’s the site that gave us The Dress and published The Dossier, a company that pushed the rest of the industry to regard the digital world with seriousness and rigor.

The “Dress” phenomenon of 2015 was fascinating, but it wasn’t journalism, and didn’t even originate with BuzzFeed. To place the infamous Trump-hit “dossier” dump near the phrase “seriousness and rigor” is laughable enough. But Manjoo irresponsibly left out the only other reason BuzzFeed has been in the news lately -- the alleged scoop by disgraced journalist Jason Leopold, when he and co-author Anthony Cormier “reported” that Michael Cohen had been directed by Trump to lie to Congress. The office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller took the unprecedented step of publicly knocking the story down.

Manjoo continued:

So where does that leave media? Bereft.

It is the rare publication that can survive on subscriptions, and the rarer one that will be saved by billionaires. Digital media needs a way to profitably serve the masses. If even BuzzFeed couldn’t hack that, we are well and truly hosed.

Kyle Smith at National Review Online wasn’t quite as bereft over the fate of BuzzFeed, as suggested by the headline, “Death Spiral for BuzzFeed, the Millennial Reader’s Digest.” Smith listed a few of the pieces of deathless journalism committed by its dedicated reporters, including, “Which Type Of Pizza Are You Based On Your Favorite 2018 Movies?” “The Romantic Movie Marathon You Plan Will Reveal What Percent Sexy You Are,” “It’s Time You Found Out Which Sandra Bullock Character You Are.”