The death of the online publication will cease publishing and lay off several hundred staff. It follows a trend of struggling online publications with the closure of Gal-Dem, BuzzFeed News, Pitchfork’s absorption into GQ and layoffs across The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost and more. Online publications have served as a way for marginalised communities, ignored by mainstream media representation, to have their voices heard and concerns validated. What will the future hold without them and what can replace them in their wake?


 In late February Variety reported that Vice CEO Bruce Dixon informed staff that the company would be cutting several hundred jobs, via a memo. The memo in its entirety outlines issues faced not only by Vice but online media publications in general.

Dear Vice Team,

As we navigate the ever-evolving business landscape, we need to adapt and best align our strategies to be more competitive in the long term. After careful consideration and discussion with the board, we have decided to make some fundamental changes to our strategic vision at Vice.We create and produce outstanding original content true to the Vice brand. However, it is no longer cost-effective for us to distribute our digital content the way we have done previously. Moving forward, we will look to partner with established media companies to distribute our digital content, including news, on their global platforms, as we fully transition to a studio model. As part of this shift, we will no longer publish content on, instead putting more emphasis on our social channels as we accelerate our discussions with partners to take our content to where it will be viewed most broadly.

Separately, Refinery 29 will continue to operate as a standalone diversified digital publishing business, creating engaging, social first content. As you know, we are in advanced discussions to sell this business, and we are continuing with that process. We expect to announce more on that in the coming weeks. With this strategic shift comes the need to realign our resources and streamline our overall operations at Vice. Regrettably, this means that we will be reducing our workforce, eliminating several hundred positions. This decision was not made lightly, and I understand the significant impact it will have on those affected. Employees who will be affected will notified about next steps early next week, consistent with local laws and practices.

I know that saying goodbye to our valued colleagues is difficult and feels overwhelming, but this is the best path forward for Vice as we position the company for long-term creative and financial success. Our financial partners are supportive and have agreed to invest in this operating model going forward. We will emerge stronger and more resilient as we embark on this new phase of our journey.

Thank you for your continued dedication to Vice and support during this time of transition. Together, I am confident that we will overcome any challenges and achieve our shared goals.


Ultimately online publications, like all organisations under capitalism, are only viable insofar as they have a successful profit model. There are a few models that make up our media landscape, with many platforms operating using a mixture of different ones. There is the subscription model, where readers who want access to content pay for it (usually in monthly instalments) and the revenue generated pays for the upkeep on the platform. This is the model Sludge Mag uses. Unfortunately, another model that is the backbone of a growing number of news organisations is billionaire ownership. GB News (Sir Paul Marshall and investment firm Legatum), The Daily Mail (Jonathan Harmsworth, 4th Viscount Rothermere), The Washington Post (Jeff Bezos), The Sun, The Times, and Fox News (Lachlan Murdoch) are but a few examples. You may wonder why billionaires, with all their business acumen (or wealth through worker wage theft, depending on how you look at it) would bankroll a business that isn’t profitable.

The answer is that shaping public opinion can be profitable in other ways. For example, Rupert Murdoch’s news outlets have peddled climate skepticism for decades. Public skepticism about the gravitas of climate change has made it harder for legislators to make hugely necessary progress in phasing out our reliance on fossil fuels. Rupert Murdoch is also an investor and board member in Genie energy, an oil and gas company. These resources would likely be phased out if governments committed to long term sustainable energy initiatives, which would be bad for business. So although Murdoch’s news corporations may fluctuate in profitability, convincing the general public that the fossil fuels he deals in are faultless, will always be a good investment. For the online publications that are struggling the most the model is usually: gain web traffic and social media engagement, then use that attention as leverage advertisers. It’s why online publications like HYPEBEAST or DAZED will sometimes have “in partnership” or “sponsored by” on articles about specific brands. From an ethical standpoint its a pretty good system. Platforms cultivate an audience that is interested in certain things, brands who have a similar audience pay to be able to present their products to said audience in hopes they make purchases. It does raise questions about how objective platforms are when writing about certain brands, for fear of losing potential ad revenue. But compared to billionaires buying news corporations to convince the public the destruction of the natural world and predatory economics are normal, its not really that deep. 

So why isn’t this working anymore? One key factor is the diversification of  relevant social media platforms. The key business principle that underpinned the online publication model was "if the service is free, you're the product”. In context this means that online publications real value is in their readers. Readers who can only be commodified if companies have faith that paying the platform for access to those readers, will bring return on investment. With the growing influence of TikTok, streamers, Instagram influencers and especially YouTubers - brands may get a much better return on investment by being visible on channels outside of the traditional online magazine. Consider the hysteria of the PRIME energy drink, headed up by popular YouTubers Logan Paul and KSI. It stands to reason that advertisers might favour sponsoring a crossover boxing match rather than an advertorial write-up in an online magazine. So where does this leave us? Sadly peeking beneath the curtain of most industries reveals that creating anything purely for the public good isn’t profitable. A platform like Gal-dem (a big inspiration for Sludge Mag) would still be running today if the success of publications was solely contingent on quality of output. But the predatory nature of capitalism doesn’t incentivise businesses to fund things for the public good. Communities who believe in the value of a publication can’t afford not to support them directly, otherwise they will likely cease to be. If you’re reading this you’ve already made the decision to support Sludge Mag, so thank you! At the same time its is also the responsibility of platforms to evolve with the times. Our passion for connecting with our audiences needs to extend to accommodating them in formats that are relevant to them.


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