Buzzfeed shut down its news division in April, a striking move that showcases the challenges of the media industry. Buzzfeed, which received a $400 million investment from NBC Universal, couldn’t make the business of actual, real journalism work. Most people know the site more for goofy listicles, spammy feeling affiliate programs, and gimmicky headlines. (You like what I did with the one for this article? Or do you feel click-baited? Let me know in the comments below if you thought that was funny or just a d**k move … and I’m sorry if the latter.) So, you might be wondering, why would I care about the shuttering of their news division?
Well, if it was an isolated incident, it might not be a thing. But Buzzfeed is joined by other media industry bigs making cuts to staff and production, including Vox, Netflix, Paramount, CNN, Fox, NBC, Vice … the list goes on. Advertisers have been tightening belts because of the vibe of a potential recession and the debt ceiling standoff, and the media industry has never been the most profitable, so it is susceptible to this type of disruption.
But there is more to it than that. I just read Traffic, by Ben Smith, a history of Buzzfeed, Gawker, the Drudge Report, Huffington Post, and more of the so-called “new media” pioneers that shook up the news industry for the last few decades. Smith noted that early on, the new media companies recognized that no one googles economic inequality in America, so to get that one critical metric of success for an online media company (traffic), you have to publish controversial things with controversial people. Many a pundit lamented this transition, which left venerable media companies with higher journalistic standards to do the heavy lifting while competing with clickbait and shock media for advertising dollars. Many newspapers went out of business. Such is life, right? Industries get disrupted. It is what it is. But the problem, according to Smith, is that real journalism is key to healthy societies. And if it is not profitable, the inevitable outcome might be a degradation of society.
But an interesting thing happened along the way. Somehow, some way, the New York Times, which has more Pulitzer wins than any other media company, started doing much, much better financially than the Buzzfeeds and HuffPos of the world, which had none of the costs associated with newspaper production, and likely much lower labor, rents, and other costs. As it turned out, the Times committed to quality, and found that people were willing to pay for it. The subscription paywall system has turned out well for them — and now the Times has a foundation of paying customers that make it much more independent of fluctuations in ad spending. It allows the Times to continue to pursue the truth and produce terrific content.
However, it also makes that content unviewable by the masses, leaving many to read lesser quality pieces, potentially leading them to have misinformed opinions. And as we talk about all the time here at CleanTechnica, misinformation, among many other problems, can slow down the cleantech revolution by causing fear, uncertainty, and doubt among potential cleantech adopters.
“The clean economy transition relies on a strong sector of growing companies,” said Mike Casey, Founder of TigerComm, a PR firm focusing on cleantech for 17 years. “And a sector’s strength relies in part on the strength of its trade media. That’s why I’m a CleanTechnica reader and advisor. It’s an important source of news and trends for our firm.”
We at CleanTechnica have decided that it is too crucial to get the truth out there about cleantech, so we took down our paywall and want to make sure that anyone and everyone can read our stuff. But we also really care about journalistic integrity, so we’re doing our best to make sure we have professional writers and editors and researchers and fact checkers, all of which costs money. And since we don’t write headlines like “34 photos of Prince Harry that will blow your mind,” our reach is more limited to those seeking out info on EVs, solar, and the like (i.e., a lot less traffic). So, it’s not like we can do as Buzzfeed did and switch to an affiliate partnership with Nike that made them millions and pushed mindless consumption of footwear (nor would we want to). Jonah Peretti did this at Buzzfeed after taking the $400M investment, in order to turn the company around financially. And for the short term, it did. But is that part of the media ecosystem important to a functioning democracy and a liveable world?
So … can you pitch in $3 a month to help catalyze the cleantech revolution?
I’m asking you, dear readers, that if you like CleanTechnica’s commitment to saving the world through catalyzing the cleantech revolution via high-integrity journalism and op-eds, would you mind supporting us so we are more insulated from the fluctuations in advertising money? You can set up automated monthly payments as low as $1 through our Patreon and PayPal pages. We do our best to pay living wages, we are powered by 100% human-generated content, and the owners (Zach and I) have never made the kind of money we could have made elsewhere. For 13 years now he and I have worked together and brought you the best version of CleanTechnica we could produce, and we’ve done it without compromising our integrity by taking ad deals with the Exxons of the world (which, ahem, the New York Times still does…).
Also note that we will be raffling off an e-bike to a subscriber this year. You’re also welcome to join our Discord server (automatically when contributing via Patreon), and top supporters can get some complimentary swag and DM us on Patreon.
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Former Tesla Battery Expert Leading Lyten Into New Lithium-Sulfur Battery Era — Podcast:
I don’t like paywalls. You don’t like paywalls. Who likes paywalls? Here at CleanTechnica, we implemented a limited paywall for a while, but it always felt wrong — and it was always tough to decide what we should put behind there. In theory, your most exclusive and best content goes behind a paywall. But then fewer people read it! We just don’t like paywalls, and so we’ve decided to ditch ours.
Unfortunately, the media business is still a tough, cut-throat business with tiny margins. It’s a never-ending Olympic challenge to stay above water or even perhaps — gasp — grow. So …