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January 25, 2019

Massive layoffs across print and digital media have sent a shock wave through the industry.
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As you’re about to read, today’s top story is about layoffs in the media world. It’s horrible news and we’re sad to report the story. 

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Now back to the news…

  • Sam, CEO of The Hustle

An unexpected ‘long weekend’: Layoffs hit BuzzFeed, HuffPost, and Gannett

’Twas an ugly week for the media industry: After unexpected layoffs across both print and digital publications, hundreds of journalists will be updating their resumes this weekend.

The downsize shows that both print and digital media companies are struggling to find a way to monetize in an ever-saturating attention economy. 

Here’s a rundown of which publications brought down the ax (and why):

A buzz cut for BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is laying off 250 workers (15% of its staff). Although BuzzFeed cut 100 jobs in 2017, this is its biggest downsize ever. Why? Because the ’Feed has raised $500m over the last decade and it’s still not profitable.

According to BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti, the corporate haircut will help the digital media company “focus on the content that is working, and achieve the right cost structure.”

HuffPost is all out of opinions

The Huffington Post will lay off 20 writers and eliminate its Opinion and Healthcare sections as its parent company, Verizon Media, cuts 7% of its total workforce (a total of 750 employees).

Verizon acquired HuffPost in 2015 (as a part of AOL), but so far the telecom giant hasn’t cut costs enough to make media margins pay off: Verizon also cut 39 HuffPost union members as part of a massive 2.1k-person downsize in 2017.

Even Pulitzers can’t protect writers at Gannett

In preparation for a potential buyout, Gannett (a massive media conglomerate that owns 101 newspapers across the country,) cut several senior journalists — some of whom had won Pulitzers

Things may look bad in digital journalism, but the grim news from Gannett is a reminder that things are still worse in print journalism. 

In the process of acquiring numerous newspapers, Gannett has already downsized dozens of news teams — and now if Gannett itself is acquired, the number of layoffs will get even larger.

Pour one out for print
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Alibaba’s coming for sports fans

Chinese sports fans, ready yourselves: Tipoff is around the corner, the ping pong balls are flying, and Alibaba is ready to score a goal with your data… clearly we’re having a hard time threading the needle.

Jack Ma’s sports subsidiary, Alisports, plans to use Alibaba’s ever-growing ecosystem of e-commerce, data-driven logistics, and entertainment (and its massive user base) to boost the way sports fans shop.  

A targeted approach

Alibaba has been trying for years to figure out how to increase sporting goods sales and other related merchandise on its platforms — which, at $11.2B in 2017, totaled 1/10th the US sports market.

In the same way that sports teams use data to maximize performance, Alisports will use data to track user spending habits to get the most out of the way fans consume, interact, and participate in their favorite pastimes — as Bloomberg reports, it’s like “Moneyball” for e-commerce.

Not the usual Alibaba game plan

So, how will it work? Alibaba will allow viewers to send messages (and even ‘virtual gifts’) to marathon runners through its media platform, Youku. In return, Alibaba will collect information from its sports fans — and then use it to sell them everything from running shoes to health insurance.

It’s a hail-mary strategy — so, with the economy threatening a downturn, Alisports plans to start slow, using the marathon as a testing ground before expanding to China’s more expensive sports tournaments.

“Right now isn’t a great time to explore futile experiments…” said Alisports CEO Zhang Dazhong. “Winter might be arriving soon for the economy, [and] it might be fierce.”

» Sports stuff

New gig startup Jyve lets you work your way up from the outside

The 3-year-old gig economy platform Jyve came out of hiding yesterday with $35m in funding and a new plan to help workers advance their gig careers by unlocking “higher skill tasks” with each job they successfully complete.

Jyve is betting that brick-and-mortar retailers will soon rely on gig workers to staff their stores — and that trustworthy workers should be able to “move up the ranks” whether or not they have a full-time employer.

It pays to pay your dues

Jyve CEO Brad Oberwager (who previously owned one of the country’s largest grapefruit importers) thinks that Uber is just the tip of the economic iceberg and that skilled labor is the next gig frontier. 

So, to help workers build specialized skills that may be more valuable, Jyve has implemented a “work quality review system” to let store managers evaluate workers’ performance and recommend them for “better opportunities.” 

It’s like a promotion, but it applies across the entire gig world: For example, an entry-level Jyve worker might start out moving boxes, but level up to driving forklifts, or auditing inventory.

A full-time job is still the holy grail of gigs

Oberwager says 70% of Jyve’s market managers started as drivers but later became “W-2 workers” (AKA, full-time employees). 

Jyve currently focuses on the retail grocery space (which relates, of course, to Oberwager’s previous experience in the grapefruit game), but with 1.2k cities on the market, it could soon expand its retail repertoire.

» Now hiring: Forklift Czar

Altria bought a 35% stake in Juul, and it’s been a headache for the cig giant ever since

In December, tobacco giant Altria invested $12.8B into Juul, in hopes of diversifying its revenue stream with healthier smoking alternatives.

Altria acquired Juul when the company was growing at 800%, for a 36x sales multiplier, and the investment has opened up a whole carton of cigarettes. 

Now the FDA is p*ssed, Altria’s stock continues to slide since the partnership, and Seeking Alpha reports that its 35% stake in Juul could see a massive write-off. 

Nobody makes a mockery of the FDA

When the FDA reduced its original push to ban all flavored e-cigs down to nicotine-flavored vape-juice and menthol-flavored tobacco in November, Altria and Juul publicly pledged that they would work harder to keep cigs and e-cigs away from children.

So, when the FDA found out that the 2 companies had secretly structured a financial partnership that seems to do the opposite, the commission was a little miffed.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb accused the company of backtracking on its promise, and now the FDA is ready to take extreme measures, even if that means an all-out war on vapes.

The stats have both companies dead in the water

E-cig use rose 78% among high school students and 48% among middle schoolers from 2017 to 2018 — about 1.5m more students than the previous year.

The FDA is gunning for Juul, and that makes it a risky asset; even the smallest regulatory setback could depreciate the value of Altria’s investment in a big way.

» Sounds stressful… Cigarette?
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