News is valuable… or not. Discuss.

Irony abounds. In the midst of what appears to be an elongated period of investment market disruption, one of the most disrupted sectors is attracting buckets of cash. In recent times some very large lumps of cash have been raised by news media web sites, ostensibly for the purpose of creating news content.

We knew that a few of the beneficiaries and agents of digital disruption, like Jeff Bezos, had been motivated to experiment with the rescue of traditional news businesses. But now it looks like pure news startups like BuzzFeed, Vice and Vox are honeypots for investors.

It’s worth noting that these are very different beasts. Vice started out as a Canadian underground mag and retains its feisty commando-style, world-domination approach as a documentary news program maker.

Some description

One of its backers is a former MTV exec (the other seems focused on the tech platform) and its prominent work — such as its early coverage of ISIS and North Korea — established a big reputation.

Vox, BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and MSN are not obviously differentiated, and are evidently more flotsam in the Bermuda Triangle of news media business models.

As we’ve noted, The Economist is one a few leading incumbents in media that understood and husbanded value in a market where much incumbent value evaporated.

Vice appears to be a startup that understands its value and is both profitable and growing.

Both The Economist and Vice are selling content. The Economist is explicitly charging for content by subscription, but also making money from content-based conferencing and the activities of its briefing business. Vice sells programming to customers like HBO and makes paid content for marketers, but is clearly heading down the track of selling news in the same way HBO and others sell content. In fact, it would be no surprise if Vice showed up as an option in Netflix or Hulu.

Clearly the market is diverging. Those who make valuable news content and know it are building on solid ground. The others, not so much.

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