From the Editor: Independent newspapers and magazines are in a pinch; here’s why you should care

Independent magazines like Bitch rely on reader donations and subscriptions to stay afloat, but even they report struggling to meet their fundraising targets. (Aly Laube)

It’s a strange time for independent media outlets right now, and an even stranger one for those owned by multi-million dollar companies and investors.

In the transition from the golden era of journalism—when every family on the block woke up to a daily on their doorstep—to today’s digital age, it’s nearly impossible to guarantee the success of small-scope newspapers and magazines. Still, the debate about how to keep the press profitable has largely resulted in shrugs and sighs.

Many say that, to get a job in the field, your best bet is to pack up and move to a small town, where you can settle into a cozy life as a reporter delivering slice-of-life stories. Others say that it’s best to freelance as much as you can, to hustle your way up the ladder and take money wherever and whenever it’s available to you. Then there are those who still believe in the ever-elusive full-time reporting job which, although usually occupied by veteran journalists, does still exist for a select few.

But this isn’t just a problem for individual workers. Their struggles are a symptom of the financial panic that most news and culture outlets are fumbling through. Editors, administrators, and investors are scrambling to figure out how they can stay afloat in a time when people don’t want to pay for the news and, thanks to the world wide web, usually don’t have to.

Go above the outlet heads and you’ll get to the big fish—the companies and elite investors who own and operate those small publishers which exist apart from the mainstream, but aren’t entirely independent. These people are the ones responsible for making the financial decisions that can make or break a newsroom..

After Mic—a millennial-focused news outlet—sold itself to Bustle Digital Group, a majority of its staff were laid off in one fell swoop. While exactly how many of the company’s 170-some employees lost their jobs is uncertain, one thing is for sure—the man who now owns both companies, Bryan Goldberg, is growing increasingly influential in the realm of media and publishing.

Mic may be the newest notch on Goldberg’s belt, but it certainly isn’t the only one. Aside from owning and founding Bustle, Elite Daily, and the Zoe Report, he also purchased the now-infamous gossip site Gawker at a bankruptcy auction last summer for only $1.35 million. This took place after the outlet’s reputation and value took a horrendous nosedive as a result of wrestler Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit against them for publishing his sex tape. Goldberg is also one of the founders of The Bleacher Report, which distributes sports coverage, although he sold that company to Turner Broadcasting System in 2012.

Part of what makes the Mic layoffs upsetting, aside from their abrupt and extreme nature, is that dozens of talented journalists—many of whom were millennials producing content relevant to other young people—are now out of work. There are a series of sections under Mic, including “Slay: News, views, and ammunition for strong women”, “Payoff: Making money, explained”, and “The Movement: From the front lines of social justice”, proving that, while it certainly isn’t the leading voice for hard-hitting social critique, Mic is a popular player in making the media more progressive.

There are so few existing major outlets made by and for young, feminist millennials that, when an indeterminate number of journalists from a sizable newsroom lose their jobs, it resonates. Many magazines and newspapers with limited target markets are in such a financially unprofitable situation that turning down a buyout or major investor could mean the difference between struggling to keep their heads above water and being able to rapidly expand their reach. What happened at Mic is an example of what’s possible when one wealthy investor puts good money above good media, which is precisely what millionaire-entrepreneurs like Goldberg do.

The fact that small, community-oriented outlets need to rely on either corporate investment or private donations means that reader revenue is more important to the press now than it ever has been before. It also means that keeping an eye on the companies that exert power over journalists is absolutely crucial, and should be recognized as a duty that we as media consumers all need to exercise to the best of our ability.


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