This week in media: VICE talks, Gawker balks, the NYT kills blogs and GE starts its own news hub

It wouldn’t be a week in media without some acquisition talks, the launch of a new-media startup — although the company behind it might surprise you — and the expansion of another, as well as two new instalments in the ongoing battle over whether bloggers are journalists. Throw in some discussion about attention metrics and you have the recipe for a killer This Week in Media, so here’s the roundup:

VICE Media is talking with potential buyers: VICE, the global media entity for millennials that started as a pop-culture magazine in Montreal, is said to have been discussing a potential investment and/or acquisition with a number of large media companies, including News Corp., Time Warner and Disney. Co-founder Shane Smith all but confirmed the negotiations this week, saying he wants a larger platform for his media ambitions — including a television channel or a partnership with one — and that the media companies he is talking to are interested in his command over an audience of millennials. The price for a seat at this Shane Smith auction? Over $2.5 billion, according to numerous reports.

News Corp. may or may not be looking at Gawker: Now and then a rumor comes along that some large media entity is looking to acquire Gawker, and this time it’s News Corp — according to a rumor that was posted first to Secret, the anonymous-sharing app, and spread quickly through the media community until it appeared on Gawker itself, in a post that referred to “an email to Gawker management, obtained by Gawker.” Founder Nick Denton, just returned from his honeymoon, poured cold water on the rumors, arguing that News Corp. is the last entity that would want to buy Gawker (although he confirmed that there was an overture from the company in 2006) and that the company is essentially “unbuyable.” In other news, Gawker has ambitious expansion plans, saying it wants to double the size of its staff.

New York Times building logo, photo by Rani Molla
New York Times building logo, photo by Rani Molla

New York Times to kill/absorb half its blogs: The Times said this week that it is phasing out as many as half of its existing blogs, with plans to either shut them down completely or integrate them into other sections of the paper. Those plans mean the widely-followed Lede blog will cease to exist, although its main writer Robert Mackey will be doing something similar in the Foreign section of the paper. Part of the rationale behind the move appears to be technical, because the paper’s blog software (WordPress) doesn’t play well with its in-house content management system and the new page design. The paper also hopes it can broaden the appeal of blogging throughout the newsroom, but I’m concerned it may lose some of the magic that goes along with a good blog.

General Electric gets into the media business: GE has been experimenting with native advertising through partnerships with companies like Vox Media, and now it seems to have decided to launch its very own news hub called Pressing, which appeared this week. The site, which is powered by the social-content platform RebelMouse, features content from partners like Vox, CNN, Politico and NBC — and mixed throughout are also native ads for GE, which in an unusual twist were created by the native-advertising arm of another media entity, Atlantic Media. In effect, GE has become a magazine publisher not because of the content but because of the ads, which are the real content. Confused? Join the club.

Medium expands its reach with new tech hub: Medium often seems to cause confusion among media watchers because it is neither fish nor fowl — in many ways it is like a magazine, since it commissions writers and pays them, and it has editors who oversee their output; but at the same time it is like a platform, since anyone can write and post something on the site with no editing at all (or compensation). This week, Medium took a significant step towards expanding the magazine-style part of the company when veteran technology writer Steven Levy announced that he will be joining the site to start a tech-focused hub. We assume he will be paid.


Whisper signs media deal with Fusion TV channel: Whisper is an anonymous-sharing app, one that allow users to post rumors or thoughts without having to identify themselves. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing a media company would be interested in, but Whisper has been signing media partnerships with companies that want to tap into the anonymous thoughts of its user base. This week the company signed a deal with Fusion, a new cable channel owned by Univision and ABC that is focused on millennial users, and it has similar deals with BuzzFeed and other outlets. So your secret could wind up being shared on TV — although of course no one but you will know that it was yours.

Senate says SCOTUSblog isn’t journalism: This week saw another episode of the long-running saga of SCOTUSblog, one of the leading sources of reporting and analysis about Supreme Court decisions. Having been denied a press pass by the Senate’s press committee — made up of other journalists from outlets like the Wall Street Journal and Roll Call — SCOTUSblog appealed and its case was heard earlier this month. The result? The blog was denied again, after the Senate press gallery said that it involves an unacceptable conflict of interest, since the lawyers who run the site have also been known to argue cases before the Supreme Court. Another blow struck for traditional journalism, which seems to be in the process of trying as hard as possible not to catch up to the evolution of the craft.

Upworthy open-sources its attention metric: Some of the momentum in the media industry seems to be shifting away from simply measuring pageviews or unique visits and towards trying to figure out how much time readers actually spend with a specific article or page, by measuring attention. The analytics company Chartbeat has its own measure, as do sites like Medium and the Financial Times, but Upworthy’s is called “attention minutes” — and this week, the site open-sourced the code behind the measurement so that other media companies could make use of it. Whether advertisers will also adopt these kinds of metrics remains to be seen, however, and ultimately they are the ones who decide which metrics matter and which don’t, since they are usually paying the bills.

Post and thumbnail images courtesy of Thinkstock / Oleksiy Mark as well as Rani Molla and Thinkstock / Michele Piacquadio