A year ago, after two decades of morale-sapping uncertainty about the viability of its business model, the journalism industry was feeling optimistic. Late 2014 had seen a dramatic vote of confidence in its future, as several startup digital publishers received lavish investment from both venture capitalists and large media companies.
“Big money is beginning to wash over the media landscape,” the Wall Street Journal reported in January 2015.
Reports of these developments hopefully suggested that the difficult economic puzzle of digital-age journalism had been finally solved, and that new innovations like native advertising would sweep away old notions about how journalism was done and financed. Coverage of advertising-supported new media juggernauts like BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Vice and Vox was ubiquitous.
Comparing BuzzFeed’s native advertising model to financing journalism with display ads, technology analyst Ben Thompson was almost giddy in his belief that the future of journalism had arrived. “BuzzFeed’s writers simply need to write stories that people find important enough to share; the learning that results is how they make money,” Thompson wrote. “The incentives are perfectly aligned.”