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Laurene Powell Jobs buying BuzzFeed News is a great idea, even if it doesn’t happen

Take: One civic-minded billionaire. Add: One money-losing news operation. Presto! A fun combination to talk about.

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti
BuzzFeed

Here’s a head-scratching deal that makes plenty of sense: Laurene Powell Jobs, the billionaire investor and philanthropist, wants to invest in the news division of BuzzFeed.

That’s per the Financial Times; Recode has subsequently confirmed that leaders from the two companies had a preliminary conversation about...something. While reps for BuzzFeed and Jobs won’t comment, here’s why a deal of some sort has an appealing logic:

  • “Hope Laurene Jobs bails us out” has become the go-to plan for any publication with problematic financials.
  • BuzzFeed News has problematic financials: It generates a lot of attention but little revenue. And while that used to be okay for its owner, it may no longer be the case.

One big reason this won’t happen: A BuzzFeed board member says the company isn’t considering the deal and doesn’t want to raise money or spin out the news group.

And while the FT floats the idea of a “spin-off or a separation” of BuzzFeed News from the parent company, it’s hard to understand how the financial mechanics of this would work.

It’s worth noting that the FT says that Ben Smith, who runs BuzzFeed News, has been the one talking to Emerson about this. Haven’t heard back from him, either.

But that’s no fun! Here’s why this one has some logic to it, even if it never lines up with reality:

Jobs has already bought a majority stake in the Atlantic, the well-regarded magazine publisher, and is perpetually floated as a potential white knight for everyone from the New York Times (she’s okay with that speculation) to Rolling Stone (that one won’t happen).

It’s fairly easy to imagine anyone who does any kind of journalism imagining/hoping that Jobs will invest in them or buy them, since she’s made a point of saying she wants to invest in companies promoting “social change.

BuzzFeed News, meanwhile, gets lots of attention and plaudits in media circles for its reporting and muck-raking — it’s the publication that published the infamous Trump Dossier a year ago.

But BuzzFeed News is a financial black hole within its parent organization. It has approximately 250 employees and doesn’t generate anything close to the revenue needed to cover those costs.

Up until now, almost all of BuzzFeed’s revenue has been generated by the rest of the company, which makes branded ads and entertainment products like videos and quizzes.

(The News group has started to generate some of its own revenue in recent months: It has a live daily news show on Twitter, for instance. And like the rest of BuzzFeed, it has begun running display advertising — scroll down to the last third of this Smith piece and you’ll see some kind of programmatically sold banner.)

Late last year, BuzzFeed announced that it was restructuring and laying off 100 of its 1,700 employees. But those cuts barely touched BuzzFeed News.

That’s because BuzzFeed founder and CEO Jonah Peretti has a deep affection for his news group, and because BuzzFeed investors and managers who would otherwise push the company to shrink the unit weren’t willing to challenge Peretti, according to people familiar with the company.

So getting BuzzFeed News off of BuzzFeed’s books — at least partially — would help Peretti’s P&L.

On the other hand, Peretti has always argued that running a robust news organization is a good thing for BuzzFeed readers — and for the company itself. “The advertising community and CMOs respect companies that do news, even if they don’t want to advertise on the news content itself,” he said a year ago.

Let’s throw one more wrinkle into this: What does Comcast think about BuzzFeed News? The cable giant, via its NBC Universal unit, has invested $400 million into BuzzFeed to date*, and last fall the two companies kicked around the idea of NBCU buying a controlling stake in BuzzFeed.

That idea didn’t progress, but the two sides may well revisit it this year. Does BuzzFeed look more or less attractive without a 250-person news group?

* Comcast has also invested $200 million in Vox Media, which owns this site.


This article originally appeared on Recode.net.