On Thursday, a week after BuzzFeed shut down its Pulitzer Prize-winning news division and laid off 15% of its staff, Jonah Peretti, the company’s chief executive, predicted in a memo to its remaining employees that the future of the media sector lay in “great cultural moments” and “fun”.
Dividing things will go out of style, he wrote. Social media will no longer drive traffic to websites. The algorithm dictating online searches will drive wellness entertainment amid “a huge reversal in the social media landscape of the 2010s” and its reliance on “content that promotes toxicity,” as Axios reported in his description of Mr. Peretti’s memo.
Mr. Peretti has been wrong before, as evidenced by the crater in BuzzFeed’s stock since the company went public in 2021. But his view that the company is headed for a post-revolution restoration period doesn’t wouldn’t have seemed out of place to anyone who attended two very different media nights in Manhattan this week: the Time 100 gala at One Columbus Circle and a book night hosted by digital news maven Ben Smith at a downtown restaurant. downtown.
More than 300 friendly guests descended on Columbus Circle on Wednesday night for the party hosted by perhaps the oldest of all legacy media brands, Time magazine. The herd included stars of recent streaming hits (Jennifer Coolidge, Aubrey Plaza, Ali Wong, Natasha Lyonne) plus, for a bit of typically temporal gravity, NASA astronomer Ed Reynolds and executive director of the American Library Association, Tracie D. Entrance.
The biggest star of the evening might have been Marc Benioff, the Silicon Valley billionaire who, along with his wife, Lynne, bought Time for $190 million from Meredith Corporation in 2018. wouldn’t have had a Time 100 party, and maybe not The Time, if he hadn’t dived in to own the publication that was the predominant weekly when weeklies were still a thing.
Under Mr. Benioff’s leadership, Time entered into partnership agreements with documentary streaming platforms and increased its event activity. The Time 100 party which was once an extension of the brand has arguably become its centerpiece. This year’s party was part of a week-long conference, the Time 100 Summit, which included onstage talks with Steven Spielberg; Kim Kardashian; former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu; and WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike.
“Isn’t it fun?” Center.
Mr. Benioff, 58, made much of his fortune in the software industry, as an executive at Salesforce. He is now part of an upside-down business that, in the days leading up to the evening, went through a period of volatility marked by the suspension of operations of Paper Magazine, a bubbly columnist of the downtown scene in New York; the firings of Tucker Carlson at Fox News, Don Lemon at CNN and Jeff Shell at NBC; and Fox News’ decision to walk away from a $787.5 million libel suit brought by Dominion Voting Systems.
Mr. Benioff brushed off a reporter’s question about it, saying, “Let’s ignore the other stuff.
Time released its first list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2004 and quickly seized on it as an opportunity to generate publicity through an annual party full of celebrity guests. (Think: Met Gala, complete with nerds.) This year’s bash was filmed as a special for ABC.
As Mr Benioff settled in for the evening, Ms Kardashian walked by in a cream-coloured John Galliano dress. On the red carpet at the end of the hall stood Mr Lemon, who had lost his job two days earlier, in part because of misogynistic comments he made on air. Unemployed but rebellious, he has given interviews to Access Hollywood, E! and Page Six TV.
Many of Mr. Lemon’s statements from the anchor position were disconcerting, but there was something wise and instantaneous about his decision not to keep a low profile after taking a hit.
“People keep asking me if I’m okay,” Mr Lemon said. “I come from a tough Louisiana stock. I’m fine.” He added that he was looking forward to spending the summer on the beach.
Nicki Cox, a reporter for the New York Post’s Page Six column, stood to the side, her head bowed. Even this gossip writer seemed intrigued by the idea that someone who had made headlines for all the wrong reasons would show up on a red carpet as if nothing had happened. “When I saw it,” Ms. Cox said, “I actually thought there was something wrong with my eyes.”
CNN Chairman Chris Licht, who was largely responsible for Mr Lemon’s firing, stood nearby in the cocktail area with Ms Coolidge and actress Tiffany Haddish. Soon, guests were seated at their tables in a multi-level banquet hall. The waiters served red wine and a salad that looked like it was made by a landscape architect.
Cameras hovered as Ms Coolidge – as MC – made self-deprecating jokes about the weirdness of being honored alongside climate scientists who ‘calculate exactly how long it will take us to die’. She was referring to Britney Schmidt and Peter Davis, who studied damage to the Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica.
Another Time 100 winner, Doja Cat, a singer and rapper who got a record deal after rising to fame through a viral TikTok video, performed her songs “Woman” and “Say So.” Because the event was as much a television production as a party, he was asked to redo the second song due to a technical issue.
Toasts were made to actress Angela Bassett and Mrs. Hall, the first black woman to lead the American Library Association. Mr. Spielberg spoke from the podium about the importance of journalism. “We need information as much as we need food, water and air,” he said, before praising Time for maintaining its sense of mission while adapting to a changing culture. .
With the backing of a billionaire, Time can afford to wait out tough times in the world of journalism, according to journalist Kara Swisher. “He will last as long as he wants,” she said at the party. CEOs of publicly traded media companies — like Mr. Peretti at BuzzFeed — have no such luxury.
The ups and downs (especially the downs) of the business were a main topic of conversation at Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy, the Thursday night party site for Mr Smith, who spent eight years as a as editor of BuzzFeed. News before leaving for two years as a media columnist at the New York Times.
The restaurant was crowded. Waiters served meatballs and other appetizers. Former colleagues of Mr. Smith were crowded at the bar. It seemed that everyone present had been personally affected by the vicissitudes of the digital information economy.
“What we were spending our money on was journalism,” said Ellen Cushing, an editor who worked at Buzzfeed from 2015 to 2018 and now plies her trade at The Atlantic, a publication whose majority owner is Emerson Collective, an organization founded by billionaire Laurene Powell Jobs. “Now that sounds naïve,” Ms Cushing continued, “but I’m glad we did it.”
Mr. Smith’s book, “Traffic,” provides an insider’s account of the 2010s race between BuzzFeed and Gawker Media while arguing that the online ethos that emerged in the early years of digital media has shaped much of contemporary culture, for better and for better. worse.
Mr Smith, 46, said he finished “Traffic” last summer when BuzzFeed News was on life support. In the final chapter, he attributed his downfall to the fact that it was “elusive and costly” to attract and maintain a strong following, especially when the same social media sites that delivered readers to BuzzFeed were cutting revenue deeply. advertisers.
It was not lost on Mr. Smith that the restaurant rally, a sort of coming-out party for him as an author, took place a week after Mr. Peretti unplugged BuzzFeed News.
“It’s weird timing,” Mr. Smith said.
Jessica Coen, who was previously the editor of Gawker and one of its spin-off sites, Jezebel, stood by the bar. “I don’t know what the new model is,” she said when asked to assess the media sector. “TIC Tac?” She was joking. Kind of.
Enter Arianna Huffington, who launched The Huffington Post in 2005. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Peretti, one of her fellow founders, began working in her spare time on a viral media experiment that would become BuzzFeed. Once the site gained traction with readers, it struck fear into established media.
In 2011, Mr. Smith, then a reporter for Politico, became the founding editor of BuzzFeed’s new news division. He remained until 2020, when he joined The Times. He returned to the start-up world last year with Semafor, a digital news site he founded with media director Justin Smith.
BuzzFeed News won the Pulitzer Prize for international reporting after Mr Smith left the site. But he faced headwinds, and his successor as editor, Mark Schoofs, resigned last year, along with two other editors. Before going public, BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost (as the site was renamed) from Verizon Media. Since then, Ms Huffington said at book night, BuzzFeed News had become less of a journalistic force. And now it’s gone.
Despite having aired his views on the media industry in his columns for The Times and writing a book on the recent history of digital news, Mr Smith appeared far from arrogant on Thursday evening when he was asked to predict the next big trend in his chosen field.
“I’m just a journalist,” he said. “I don’t see the future.”