Bad news from Mashable, BuzzFeed, and Vice shows times are rough for ad-supported digital media

Thursday was a rough day for digital media. Within hours, a series of reports, some unofficial and others confirmed, underscored a bitter reality that’s become increasingly harder to avoid: Not even the biggest digital media startups are immune from the seismic shifts in digital advertising affecting the whole industry. The upshot: Ad-supported digital media is hard, and getting harder. Meanwhile, the duopoly — Google and Facebook — continue to see their own ad businesses thrive. Here’s a rundown: — More layoffs at Oath. Early in the day, Digiday’s Lucia Moses reported that Verizon’s Oath, which includes The Huffington Post, AOL, Yahoo, and some ad tech products, was laying off 560 staffers, around 4 percent of the company’s overall headcount. Those cuts were in addition to the 2,100 Verizon laid off when it acquired Yahoo in June. — Mashable sells low. Probably the most brutal news of the day came from The Continue reading "Bad news from Mashable, BuzzFeed, and Vice shows times are rough for ad-supported digital media"

Post-layoffs, Spirited Media is exploring memberships and consulting (and killing off its direct-sold display ads)

Spirited Media — the much-watched local-news startup with sites in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Denver — is providing a bit more clarity on its future plans, a week after the dispiriting news that it laid off five staffers. In a Medium post this morning, Spirited Media strategy VP Chris Krewson said that version 2.0 of the company will include three major changes to the network of sites’ revenue model. One will be the addition of membership programs, which it plans to introduce to all of its cities starting next year. To develop the effort, the company is working with the News Revenue Hub, which has previously worked with sites like Honolulu Civil Beat, The Intercept, and PolitiFact. Spirited Media is also Continue reading "Post-layoffs, Spirited Media is exploring memberships and consulting (and killing off its direct-sold display ads)"

A regular New York Times kids’ section and a kids’ version of The Daily are on the way this month

When The New York Times published an experimental kids’ section in its Sunday paper back in May, Caitlin Roper, The New York Times Magazine’s special projects editor, didn’t quite expect the scale of the reaction from the feature’s young readers. Dozens of kids (many via their parents) contacted her with emails thanking the Times for publishing the section. Many shared photos of them reading the paper, drawing on its centerfold, and trying out some of the section’s featured recipes. And then there was the Change.org petition, published a few days later, that implored the Times to make the kids’ section a permanent weekly fixture of its newspaper. (Okay, it only got 197 signatures. But that’s 197 future Times subscribers.) Roper, who returned to the deluge of responses after coming back from maternity leave, said that the Times got the message, and quickly decided to give its Continue reading "A regular New York Times kids’ section and a kids’ version of The Daily are on the way this month"

Policy, not recipes: The New Food Economy focuses on the underreported stories of our food system

Food coverage on the web is dominated by Facebook-friendly recipe videos, gastronomy, and restaurant reviews. The founders of The New Food Economy admit that the site’s own food coverage isn’t nearly as sexy as the above, but it’s far more vital: the economics, culture, and politics of food, with a special emphasis on the many factors that influence our food long before it reaches our mouths. “It’s simple and yet not simple at all,” said Kate Cox, the site’s editor. “Almost everything we do has something to do with these forces changing our food, how we get access to it, and what it costs. There’s an awful lot of policy that has the potential to change what consumers have access to.” The New Food Economy breaks its coverage into three primary verticals. “Issues” covers ongoing debates in food policy, justice, and health (“A food activist just won Continue reading "Policy, not recipes: The New Food Economy focuses on the underreported stories of our food system"

Spirited Media lays off staff, capping off a rough week for local news

Spirited Media, one of the recent bright spots in local media, suddenly looks a lot more dim. The company laid off staff at all three of its local publications last week, Corey Hutchins at Columbia Journalism Review reported late Friday. Denverite, which Spirited Media acquired earlier this year, lost three reporters and its social media editor — a third (!) of its 12-person staff — while Billy Penn and Pittsburgh’s The Incline each cut their headcount by one. “It was a shitty week,” said a matter-of-fact Jim Brady, Spirited Media’s CEO. When Spirited Media acquired Denverite in March, its ambition was to create a new kind of digital-only local news chain built around events and community engagement. And that ambition was a grand one. At the time of the news, Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of Denverite’s parent company Avoriaz, cited BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, and Business Insider as sites Continue reading "Spirited Media lays off staff, capping off a rough week for local news"

The risk of billionaire-funded media, the importance of archiving, and other takeaways from the demise of DNAInfo and Gothamist

What billionaires giveth, billionaires can taketh away. DNAinfo and Gothamist, two popular local news networks, were abruptly shutdown last night, just a week after employees of companies voted to unionize. Billionaire Joe Ricketts, who launched DNAInfo in 2009 and acquired Gothamist last year, wrote that while the two sites had accomplished much over the years (9 million unique visits a day) “that progress hasn’t been sufficient to support the tremendous effort and expense needed to produce the type of journalism on which the company was founded.” Of course the timing of the news lent itself to a different conclusion: rather than recognize the sites’ unionization efforts, Ricketts (who hasn’t kept secrets his distaste for unions) decided to shut them down. Adding insult to injury, the dozens DNAinfo and Gothamist employees (which included both writers and salespeople) were themselves blindsided by the news, which many Continue reading "The risk of billionaire-funded media, the importance of archiving, and other takeaways from the demise of DNAInfo and Gothamist"

“Instagram for data”: Grafiti wants to make it easier to create and share data visualizations on smartphones

One of the features that made Instagram such a runaway success was its simple-yet-robust set of photo editing tools, which made it easy for users to tweak photos before sharing them with friends. The developers of Grafiti want to bring a similar kind of democratization to the real-time production of charts and data. The app, one of 11 ventures to emerge out of startup accelerator Matter’s latest class, is a suite of tools designed to make it easier for smartphone users to explore verified datasets, create and tweak charts, and share their findings with others via texting or any of the big social networks — all while on-the-go. Farhan Mustafa, Grafiti’s CEO, said the app was a product of his experiences in the field reporting for Al Jazeera. While other journalists were able to use their smartphones to tell stories in the moment via text, photos, and video, it Continue reading "“Instagram for data”: Grafiti wants to make it easier to create and share data visualizations on smartphones"