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BuzzFeed News? More like BuzzFeed Olds

As anyone working in the digital media sector knows by now, BuzzFeed News is no more.

This week, the New York Times published an impassioned obituary of sorts, of the so-described “quirky upstart that became a Pulitzer Prize-winning operation.”

It noted the newsroom’s humble beginnings, as a clickbait and listicle-driven media company designed to capture readers’ attention through the noise of social media.

Soon, though, the business took a turn for the more sincere, and as the BuzzFeed News brand began to take itself more seriously, it “soon drew attention for its ambitious, sharp reporting.”

The brand branched out overseas and invested further into investigative journalism, with several of its alumni having moved on to more ‘high brow’ publications, such as the New York Times itself, as well as the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

Those newsrooms, in turn, “have embraced many of the practices that BuzzFeed pioneered in search of readers online,” the NYT reports, as the mark made by the company on modern journalism continues to be felt across the media.

For all of its impact, however, the division failed to make enough money to survive, “unable to square the reliance on digital advertising and the whims of social media traffic with the considerable costs of employing journalists around the world.”

BuzzFeed News’ closure is set to impact some 60 members of BuzzFeed’s 1,200-strong employee base, with another 120 jobs to be cut across the parent company’s business, content, tech and administrative teams.

The layoffs are part of a broader trend which has seen other media outlets – Vox Media and Vice, for example – fail to live up to their previously massive valuations.

Vox laid off 7% of its staff in January, while Vice is “desperately seeking a buyer,” according to the NYT.

Despite the unfortunate turn of events that led to Buzzfeed News’ closure, the brand signed off in typical good humour. 

The last Apple News push notification sent out by the outlet read: “BuzzFeed News is logging off with a reminder that Blippi pooped on his friend.”

Well, what more is there to say than that?

A load of old junk(ets)

The Financial Times once again took a closer look at the gambling industry this week, with a story on the “overdue reckoning for Macau’s casinos,” after the local industry’s reliance on ‘junket’ operators fell under the spotlight.

The story begins with gaming lawyer Jorge Menezes, a figure “prepared to ask on the record, difficult questions about the gambling industry in the territory,” and who was once attacked by thugs using bricks tied to their fists.

Those difficult questions include how casinos, including those publicly listed in the US, were “allowed to co-operate with parties accused of illegal practices that were carried out for years seemingly in plain sight?”

Menezes refers here to the practices of ‘junket’ operators, who promote casinos to the ultra-wealthy and encourage them to gamble stakes in the millions, transferring the money out of mainland China and into Macau in breach of Chinese law.

The issue came to a head in 2021 when Alvin Chau, the head of junket operator Suncity Group and referred to by the FT as “Asia’s gambling kingpin”, was arrested following a crackdown from Beijing on Macau’s casino sector.

Chau was subsequently sentenced to 18 years in prison for involvement in organised crime, illegal betting and fraud.

Following his arrest, MGM, Wynn and Sands all promptly terminated their agreements with junket operators, while some casinos in Australia had their licences suspended after allowing Suncity to operate gambling rooms for VIP high rollers on their premises.

Menezes suggests that casino operators have since been performing an unconvincing display of mock incredulity at the revelations, compared by the FT to the famous Casablanca gag: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

“Did they not know for 10 years, can anyone believe MGM, Wynn and Sands did not know that criminal activities were taking place in their casinos, does anyone believe this?” Menezes asks.

In the end, this article brings up more questions than it does answers, as it notes: “While the big junket companies have closed, the casino businesses have continued with hardly a blip.”

And, with all six of Macau’s major operators handed new, 10-year licences last year, “their lucky streak continues,” it concludes.

Lucky indeed.

Gambling and football: a love story for the ages

Another stellar piece from the FT makes it into this week’s Hot Copy, as Samuel Agini and Oliver Barnes offer a deep dive into “How English football became hooked on gambling.”

As clubs in the Premier League now prepare to (very slowly) phase out front-of-shirt sponsorships by gambling firms, the authors looked into the past, present and future of the gambling sector’s love affair with the Beautiful Game.

They suggest that the reluctance of football authorities to cut ties with the sector altogether is indicative of the sport’s financial reliance on gambling, especially in lower leagues.

The government is accused of taking half-measures “to keep the hawks at bay,” while it’s suggested the Premier League is attempting to “portray an image of responsibility,” without giving up the revenues associated with gambling.

Of course, football is the biggest betting sport in the UK, followed fairly closely by horse racing, while no other sport comes remotely close to either.

Readers are encouraged to have a proper look at the FT’s article, which sets out several key statistics from the sector in a series of easy-to-understand graphics.

Football’s obsession with gambling firms can be traced back to 2002, when Fulham became the first English football club to sign a sponsorship deal with betting exchange Betfair.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and a 2020 study showed that a gambling sponsor was referenced every 21 seconds during a typical TV match broadcast.

The article argues that even if front-of-shirt sponsorships disappear from view over the next few seasons, the gambling sector’s obsession with football is going nowhere.

Because, while the EFL may insist that gambling sponsorships are in no way related to increased betting among football fans, “they wouldn’t keep spending the money if it didn’t work.”