Digital media bubble is an issue

SAM KING, Opinion Columnist

When you hear about some kind of bubble bursting you probably think of soap bubbles or perhaps the housing bubble that burst about 10 years ago. You probably don’t think about the Digital Media bubble that’s mid burst right now.

The little-known bubble in the world of technology has some serious impacts on our society. It could drastically alter the internet and the digital landscape as a whole while also changing the world of journalism and news, too.

Let me define the digital media bubble first. As the internet grew, 2000’s websites like Buzzfeed and Vice began to delve into news reporting or journalist ventures besides their normal content creation. As they become renowned for this, many websites followed, as did investors dumping billions into these websites.

Little did these investors know, they weren’t going to get the return on their investment that they had hoped for. Digital journalism isn’t a hyper profitable area, especially as Google and Facebook began to swallow as much as 89 percent of all digital ads, according to WBGH.

So, most of these websites have to operate on business models that give their content away for free which means investors aren’t going to be making billions out of the industry.

We are now seeing the effects of investors realizing this. About two months ago everyone’s favorite quiz website, Buzzfeed, announced some serious layoffs. The numbers are a little murky, but according to TechCrunch, 15 percent of Buzzfeed’s total staff has gotten or is getting laid off. That’s hundreds of employees, most of whom are journalists.

This has already had an effect on Buzzfeed’s news cycle as their National News Desk and National Security Team have both been disbanded due to the layoffs (Variety). Worse still, this isn’t just a Buzzfeed problem. Around 2,100 people have lost media jobs in the past few weeks. Vice announced that 10 percent of its staff is being let go. Miami’s New Times newspaper announced that 450 workers in their subsidiary papers would be getting laid off. The Gannett company, an owner of a vast network of newspapers, fired 400 some workers, according to The Cut.

There’s something that almost all of these fired employees have in common as well. Almost every single one of them are journalists, according to Al Jazeera.

So, reporters are getting fired left and right in the world of digital media, but why is this particularly bad?

Well there’s a lot of reasons. The biggest is the simple fact that multiple news sources are good for us as a society. News organizations can easily manipulate their listeners. I won’t dive too deeply into this topic since there are piles upon piles of articles and research all talking about this. Bias can easily be formed and stories can be twisted to fit an agenda.

If there are many news sources, this is less of a problem since people have options. Now, if there are very few sources, it becomes easy for a company like Facebook or Google to only show you the information they want you to see. It might sound like a conspiracy theory, but too bad we already have proof that Facebook played a major role in the 2016 election. The information that traveled through people’s Facebook feeds was manipulated to push them to vote for certain candidates, according to the New York Times.

This is something that already happened with many news sources. Now other sources are decreasing which means it’s even easier for this manipulation to happen. This could potentially get worse as well. The digital media bubble hasn’t fully popped yet; it is at mid-pop.

We’re still sunk deep in some serious problems, like an overabundance of content combined with platform monopolization, to combine into an environment where investors just don’t want to spend money. That means that without any new money coming in to stay afloat, companies like Buzzfeed will start to sink since they have no strong revenue streams.

Will this spell the end for Buzzfeed and their beloved quizzes? Probably not. This may spell the end for some of their journalistic efforts, or Vice’s, or newspapers’ in general. That’s the part that scares me. I don’t want all my news to come from Facebook or Google. I like having access to a multitude of news sources. That’s how I wrote this article.

I’m hoping the bubble doesn’t sink the industry as badly as some predict. Unfortunately, there’s really no telling how much the world of news will be affected. The layoffs could stop for now only to continue later. Or maybe they won’t. We just don’t know.