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The Basic Huffington Post Problem

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Well, apart from the fact that it was the most dreadfully woke and therefore boring outlet it was possible to have.

The news website BuzzFeed has laid off 47 HuffPost workers in the US, the majority of them journalists, and closed down HuffPost’s Canadian operation, reportedly without warning to staff, less than a month after purchasing the rival company.

Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed’s chief executive, announced the move in a virtual staff meeting on Tuesday, as the company also warned it could trim operations in the UK and Australia.

The job cuts amount to nearly 30% of HuffPost’s US-based journalists, at a time when most news outlets across the country are shrinking or facing closure.

In the beginning they did very well. Because a very large part of their traffic came from people writing for free. Which is a pretty good way to make money, pay nothing and still be able to charge for adverts on the material.

The particular trigger for the cuts now is that – given they don’t get the free stuff anymore, they’ve closed that down – ad rates have collapsed over the past year. Online traffic has soared as all are at home. Sales of stuff have fallen as a result of those known little problems which has meant ad budgets have significantly fallen. There’s not much point in many service businesses even trying to advertise at present.

The net effect of that has been that ad rates have fallen through the floor. They might be, perhaps, 10% of what they used to be (looking at our own servers etc but don;t generalise too much from that).

OK, so lots of pressure on income and so on. But that’s not actually the base mistake that has been made.

Huffington Post went out and copied the cost structure of big American newspapers. Which are grossly, stupendously, top heavy. They have layers of editors where British newspapers just have empty air. Sure, OK, that might mean that facts get checked a little more than they do here but anyone who has ever dealt with newspapers on both sides off The Pond will know the difference I mean.

I once, for example, did a little piece for the Washington Post (for which the bastards haven’t paid but that’s another matter) and I swear that there were three editors on it. Each wanting to discuss minute points of phrasing and punctuation. Not just note it, but discuss it with me, backs and forths of drafts. The sort of thing that in a British paper (say, The Times, from experience) would have been dealt with by one editor having a look for 10 minutes and correcting for house style without even asking.

That’s the sort of cost structure that could be supported when American newspapers were local monopolies. With their vastly profitable classifieds sections producing a third of revenue, subscriptions another third and display the final third.

You can’t support that cost structure on just the third of revenues from display advertising. Which is why all the American newspapers are going bust and we’ll end up with half a dozen national titles. But that’s what HuffPo did. That layer upon layer of editors and executives and all that crazed nonsense when they never, ever, were going to have the revenue stream that would support it. The reason they did that is because they looked around and saw that’s what serious newspapers did. Instead of asking why they did, or how they did, they just assumed that that was how to be serious.

Which is the very thing now catching up with them.

Back when British Gas was cut off from the taxpayer tap the incoming management cut 5 layers of middle management. The irruption of the internet into the American newspaper business has meant that the same sort of cuts are necessary there. HuffPo built itself by creating those five layers of middle management. It really, really, never was going to work.

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VERB (transitive)
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2. to wipe out or destroy

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