Shutdowns, Revivals and C-Suite Moves: 9 Shakeups in Digital Media in 2023

Observer's roundup of publishers, billionaire investors and A.I. "writers" who stirred the digital media world in 2023.

(L-R): Will Lewis, Jonah Peretti, Josh Jackson and Ross Levinsohn.
(L-R): Will Lewis, Jonah Peretti, Josh Jackson and Ross Levinsohn. Getty Images

The digital news and media industry has shown itself to be as unstable as ever in 2023: Layoffs hit publications of all sizes and statures; employees led strikes for better work conditions; and management cited “economic headwinds” more times than we could count. 

We lost publications and, in some cases, got them back. In April, both BuzzFeed News and Paper Magazine shuttered, but Paper was given a new chance at life in June when publisher Brian Calle bought it. Paste Magazine founder Josh Jackson did the same with Jezebel, buying it within the same month that G/O Media killed it.

From leadership shuffles to website shutdowns to publication relaunches, here are nine major digital media shakeups that happened this year:

Gawker was shut down by Bustle and then resurrected by Singaporean billionaire Meng Ru Kuok

Gawker, the celebrity blogging site founded by Nick Denton and Elizabeth Spiers in 2002, has lived a couple of lives at this point. In 2021, Bustle Digital Group relaunched the site after it had been defunct for five years following a legal battle with professional wrestler Hulk Hogan and PayPal cofounder Peter Thiel. But in February of this year, Bustle also rid itself of Gawker amid a companywide downsizing that cut its staff by 8 percent. Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg said the company would prioritize “better-monetizing sites.”

However, that wasn’t the end of the story for Gawker. In November, Meng Ru Kuok, the CEO of Singapore-based Caldecott Music Group, acquired its assets from Bustle. “As a brand that spent many years in the public consciousness, my personal opinion is that it has the opportunity for reinvention,” Kuok said in an email to Variety.

Jonah Peretti shut down BuzzFeed News

In April, BuzzFeed (BZFD) CEO Jonah Peretti shuttered the company’s newsroom, BuzzFeed News, as part of a companywide layoff that affected 180 employees, or 15 percent of the staff. Peretti said in a company memo he “over-invested” in BuzzFeed News to keep it afloat. “This made me slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media,” he said. 

The Information reported in July BuzzFeed was also planning to sell Complex Networks, a youth culture media company acquired in 2021, at a deep discount. HuffPost is now BuzzFeed’s only remaining news brand.

Brian Calle acquired Paper Magazine

Paper Magazine, founded in 1984 as a culture publication for the downtown Manhattan scene, has undergone many changes since being acquired by ENTtech Media Group in 2017. EntTech laid off Paper’s staff a month after the takeover. Some of the affected employees had been with the magazine for decades. 

In April, EntTech CEO and founder Tom Florio laid off the magazine’s entire staff and shuttered the publication, citing a decline in advertising revenue. Two months later, Paper was bought by Brian Calle, a publisher who had resurrected LA Weekly and the Village Voice. Calle told The New York Times he was trying to figure out a new model for legacy publications like Paper to prosper. “I think Paper is perfectly positioned to be the go-to avant-garde agency,” Calle said. 

George Soros and others bought out bankrupt Vice Media 

The fallout of Vice Media’s bankruptcy is ongoing. The company was once worth $5 billion, but by the time of its bankruptcy filing in May, it was fighting for a valuation of merely $350 million. For that price, Vice was acquired by three investors in July: George Soros‘ S​​oros Fund Management, Fortress Investment Group and Monroe Capital

Earlier this month (Dec. 7), Vice’s co-CEO Hozefa Lokhandwala stepped down, leaving Bruce Dixon as the sole CEO. In the same month, Vice’s chief marketing officer Nadja Bellan-White also left, and Mike Lang, an advisor to Fortress, was appointed interim executive chairman.

Vice executed two rounds of layoffs this year: one in April, cutting more than 100 jobs and canceling Vice News Tonight, and the other in November, cutting less than 100 additional positions. 

C-suite shuffle at Vox Media

Vox Media, which owns publications including The Verge and the New York Magazine, underwent a number of executive changes in June. The company brought in Geoff Schiller, the former revenue chief of Group Nine Media, as its chief revenue officer. Vox acquired Group Nine Media in 2022 and absorbed brands like Thrillist, PopSugar and NowThis.   

Schiller’s precedent at Vox, Ryan Pauley, took on an expanded position called president of revenue and growth, supervising Schiller. Also reporting to Pauley is Jackie Cinguina, who was promoted from senior vice president of marketing to chief marketing officer. Lastly,  Lauren Rabaino, chief of staff to Vox CEO Jim Bankoff, was promoted to chief operating officer.  

Business Insider had a new CEO and an old name

After a test run of just being “Insider” for two years, “Business Insider” is back, editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson announced in November. Business Insider’s return to its old branding also came with leadership changes. Barbara Peng was promoted from president to CEO, replacing cofounder Henry Blodget. Blodget still holds a seat on the company’s board. 

In June, unionized Business Insider staff went on strike for 13 days and won their contract with management, including a $65,000 wage floor and healthcare cost reimbursements. The strike followed a company layoff in April where Blodget and Peng cut 10 percent of the staff, affecting around 100 employees.  

The Washington Post appointed Will Lewis as CEO

The Washington Post’s search for a new CEO ended in November with the appointment of Will Lewis, the former CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Wall Street Journal. The Post’s last CEO, Fred Ryan, stepped down in June after a decade-long run. Patty Stonesifer, a tech executive and board member of Amazon, is serving as interim CEO until Lewis starts in January. In October, Stonesifer announced a layoff of 240 Post employees, prompting a newsroom strike in early December.

Lewis left Dow Jones in 2020 and teamed up with former Dow Jones executives Ramin Beheshti and Eleanor Breen and former BBC editorial director Kamal Ahmed to found The News Movement. The startup news organization, where Lewis was CEO and publisher, focuses on reporting the news through short- and long-form video content on platforms like TikTok and YouTube Shorts. Beheshti, The News Movement’s president, is stepping in as interim CEO to replace Lewis. 

Paste Magazine’s Josh Jackson rescued Jezebel

G/O Media announced in November that it would shut down its feminist publication, Jezebel. Editor-in-chief Lauren Tousignant told 404 Media advertisers had a problem with the publication’s tagline “Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth.” Advertisers, at least the ones G/O Media was courting, were hesitant to have their ads placed next to articles about issues like abortion rights.  

After 16 years of owning Jezebel, G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller laid off the publication’s entire staff on Nov. 9. The mourning period wasn’t long, though. By the end of the month, Jezebel had a new home under Paste Magazine. Paste’s owner, Josh Jackson, bought Jezebel and Splinter, another defunct G/O Media brand, in an all-cash deal for an undisclosed amount.

“I want them to push the boundaries,” Jackson told the New York Times. “I think there are advertisers out there who have the courage to go to where the audience is.” Jezebel relaunched under Paste on Dec. 11.

Sports Illustrated’s parent company fired its CEO and other execs over A.I. content exposé

In November, science and technology publication Futurism reported Sports Illustrated and The Street published content generated by artificial intelligence (A.I.) without disclosure. After Futurism contacted The Arena Group, Sports Illustrated’s publisher, about its findings, it deleted the content without responding directly to the allegations. Earlier this year, Futurism also found that another Arena Group publication, Men’s Journal, published an A.I. generated article riddled with errors

After Futurism’s article came out, Arena stock plummeted more than 25 percent. Arena issued a statement, blaming AdVon Commerce, a partner from which Arena licenses e-commerce articles. According to the statement, AdVon had assured Arena that “all of the articles in question were written and edited by humans” but still violated the media group’s policy by publishing those articles under pseudonyms without disclosing they were A.I.-generated profiles).  

Arena said it would terminate its partnership with AdVon. But the controversy led to the ousting of Ross Levinsohn, CEO of both Arena and Sports Illustrated. Arena fired three other executives: operations chief Andrew Kraft, media president Rob Barrett and corporate counsel Julie Fenster. 

Shutdowns, Revivals and C-Suite Moves: 9 Shakeups in Digital Media in 2023