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BuzzFeed is Buying HuffPost

After falling prey to some of the same business difficulties that have plagued newspapers and magazines, the digital-media giants BuzzFeed and HuffPost have decided to join forces, the companies announced on Thursday.

Under the plan, BuzzFeed will acquire HuffPost from its owner, Verizon Media, as part of a larger stock deal, the companies said. The BuzzFeed and HuffPost websites will remain distinct, each with its own editorial staff. The BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti, who helped found HuffPost 15 years ago, will serve as the chief executive.

As part of the arrangement, Verizon Media will become a minority shareholder in BuzzFeed, the companies said, but it will not have a seat on BuzzFeed’s board.

“We’re excited about our partnership with Verizon Media, and mutual benefits that will come from syndicating content across each other’s properties, collaborating on innovative ad products and the future of commerce, and tapping into the strength and creativity of Verizon Media Immersive,” Mr. Peretti said in a statement.

BuzzFeed and HuffPost have struggled, with both having gone through rounds of layoffs in recent years. Mr. Peretti believes that getting bigger is the right move for his business.

Digital media, a relatively open territory when HuffPost started in 2005, has grown crowded and more competitive. Google and Facebook have grabbed huge chunks of ad revenue from publishers; Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Twitch are taking would-be readers’ attention; and many legacy media outlets have gotten the hang of the web while also figuring out how to persuade readers to pay for content.

The deal between BuzzFeed and HuffPost marks the fourth significant merger among name-brand digital publishers, following the combination of Vox Media and New York Magazine, Vice Media’s acquisition of Refinery29, and Group Nine’s merger with PopSugar. Digital journalism needs size to survive — and even these deals may not be enough to sustain their operations.

Because BuzzFeed and HuffPost appeal to different readerships, they should complement each other as part of the same company, Mr. Peretti said in an interview on Thursday.

“We want HuffPost to be more HuffPosty, and BuzzFeed to be more BuzzFeedy — there’s not much audience overlap,” he said. “These are different audiences they serve. On the editorial side and the consumer side, we want to have a lot of independence and autonomy for HuffPost and for it to determine its own brand.”

Mr. Peretti, 46, also said HuffPost will have a new editor in chief. The site’s previous top editor, from 2016 until March of this year, was Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times editor. She left HuffPost to become the head of content at the podcasting company Gimlet Media, and a successor has yet to be named. On the business side, operations are likely to be combined.

Mr. Peretti approached Verizon on several occasions about a possible HuffPost acquisition, he said in the interview. In 2018, shortly after Hans E. Vestberg was named Verizon’s chief executive, Mr. Peretti made an overture, only to be rebuffed.

He said he found a willing ear in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the convention that draws digital publishers, tech companies and major advertisers who meet to broker multimillion-dollar marketing agreements between games of craps and blackjack.

In a suite at the Aria Resort and Casino on the 35th floor overlooking the Vegas Strip, Mr. Peretti met with Guru Gowrappan, the Verizon Media chief executive, who reports to Mr. Vestberg, to discuss ways the two companies could work together.

At first, they discussed how Verizon Media could help BuzzFeed with its ad technology, as well as the possibility of entering into a content-sharing arrangement. Some months later, the talk turned to an acquisition, Mr. Peretti said.

“While considering opportunities to work together, naturally, Jonah and I also discussed the property he co-founded, HuffPost,” Mr. Gowrappan said in a statement. “We quickly realized BuzzFeed’s strategy would complement HuffPost’s road map, injecting it with new energy and growing the brand into the future.”

HuffPost had seen a large drop in revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to two people with knowledge of the company, who were not authorized to discuss it publicly. In an interview, Mr. Gowrappan said that the company believed in Mr. Peretti’s approach, which persuaded him that a merger deal would add value.

Once the deal goes through, BuzzFeed will have to find ways to cut costs, the two people said. Mr. Peretti’s company was on track to turn a profit this year, but the addition of HuffPost will add more costs starting next year. The deal includes some cash from Verizon that will help BuzzFeed pay for severance for possible layoffs and other costs associated with the merger, the two people said.

Both outlets share DNA. Along with the political power player Arianna Huffington and the investor Kenneth Lerer, Mr. Peretti was part of the team that created the original Huffington Post, as it was then known, in 2005. The driving idea was to build a liberal version of Drudge Report — an online gathering spot for readers fed up with the George W. Bush administration.

The site benefited from Ms. Huffington’s Rolodex, back when Rolodexes were still a thing: She was able to charm big-name contributors from Hollywood and the Beltway to write for free. Steeped in the Google algorithm, Mr. Peretti, the site’s chief technology officer, along with its editors, helped make Huffington Post into an online force, one that featured a new brand of journalism — unapologetically web-native, complete with slide shows, hot-take opinion pieces and curiosity-inducing headlines — that drew millions of clicks in the years before Twitter and other social media platforms took charge of the internet discourse.

In 2006, Mr. Peretti, a scientist of the web with a perennial interest in which pieces of online content proved most engaging to readers, started BuzzFeed while he was still HuffPost’s chief technology officer. At first, it was an experimental project that he ran out of a small office in Manhattan’s Chinatown. Mr. Peretti left HuffPost in 2011, after it was sold to AOL for $315 million, and with the help of $35 million from corporate investors, he transformed his side gig into a stand-alone media company.

BuzzFeed caught on as a website filled with features aimed at a largely millennial audience, things like “21 Pictures That Will Restore Your Faith in Humanity” and a video of BuzzFeeders trying to make a watermelon explode. As the site matured, it went deep into current-events coverage and investigative articles under BuzzFeed News, a division that was led for eight years by its founding editor, Ben Smith, before he joined The Times as its media columnist, and is now run by Mark Schoofs.

But struggles lay ahead.

In 2017, BuzzFeed cut 100 employees after missing revenue targets. Last year, it laid off more than 220 employees, or 15 percent of its work force. Amid the cost-cutting measures, BuzzFeed added banner ads, a form of advertising it once eschewed. It even expanded into the retail business, with branded products, including a recent partnership to create sex toys.

HuffPost cut 39 employees during a round of layoffs in 2017. In early 2019, Verizon said it would cut 800 positions, or 7 percent of its media divisions. Later that year, HuffPost let 11 video employees go.

In a 2018 interview with The Times, Mr. Peretti dropped huge hints that his site would be better off as part of a larger entity. “If BuzzFeed and five of the other biggest companies were combined into a bigger digital media company,” he said at the time, “you would probably be able to get paid more money.”

In the interview on Thursday, Mr. Peretti did not rule out another merger.

“We will continually look at opportunities, but I haven’t taken the approach of trying to rush it,” he said just before hopping off the call to lead an all-hands meeting of the HuffPost staff. “We’re building a real platform for digital media to get more value from content operations that we own, that everyone should be getting.”

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Apple iPhone 12 Review: Superfast Speed, if You Can Find It

I started this iPhone review in the most peculiar way: by opening a map to find out where I could test it.

That’s because Apple’s newest iPhones, for the first time, work with 5G, the ultrafast fifth-generation wireless networks that will theoretically let people download a movie to their devices in seconds. The problem? The superspeedy 5G networks have not been rolled out everywhere.

I learned this the hard way. When Apple provided The New York Times with iPhone 12s to test on Verizon’s 5G network, I quickly discovered that my neighborhood in the San Francisco Bay Area didn’t have any 5G connection. So I went on a journey through San Francisco to find the superfast data speeds that Apple and Verizon executives promised when they unveiled the new iPhones last week.

When I found places where I could connect to the fastest 5G networks, the iPhone experience was hugely gratifying. The network delivered download speeds to the phone that were up to seven times as fast as the best broadband services I have ever used.

But the locations where I tracked down ultrafast 5G were far less satisfying. At one point, I found the speedy connection in the back of a Safeway parking lot. Another time I was in front of a Pet Food Express. What would I do with an incredibly fast internet connection there?

In most parts of San Francisco, the iPhone instead drew data from a more vanilla flavor of 5G that Verizon calls “5G Nationwide,” which is the connection that most of the country will get for the foreseeable future. Those download speeds ranged from much slower than to twice as fast as my older iPhone, which was on Verizon’s 4G network.

That’s all to say that despite the hype around 5G, the network underwhelmed. At this point, it should not be the primary reason to splurge on an expensive handset in a pandemic-induced recession.

The iPhone 12, with bright screens and a more robust design, is still a solid upgrade from past iPhones. But you will pay a premium: The device, which becomes available on Friday, starts at $829, up from $699 for last year’s iPhone 11. (Another model, the iPhone 12 Mini, costs $729 but has a smaller screen and ships later this year.)

I tested the iPhone 12 and the high-end iPhone 12 Pro, which starts at $999, for about a week. Here’s how that went.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Phone carriers like Verizon and AT&T started rolling out 5G networks last year and have marketed them as superfast. But what they aren’t telling you is that there are two flavors of 5G and that the one you will most likely get is not going to be the speedier one.

Here are the two versions of 5G in a nutshell:

  • There’s ultrafast 5G, which is called millimeter wave. (Verizon labels it “5G Ultra Wideband.”) It travels very short distances and has trouble penetrating obstacles and walls. That makes it usable in outdoor spaces like street corners or parks, but probably not in our offices or homes anytime soon. Because of that, only tiny slivers of the country now have superfast 5G.

  • Then there’s “5G Nationwide,” which is more widely available. It travels much farther, but carriers have said it will be only about 20 percent faster than 4G wireless networks.

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Credit…Verizon

I saw the differences in 5G firsthand when I opened the Verizon coverage map for San Francisco. Verizon used red to highlight locations with 5G Nationwide, while areas with the ultrafast 5G were marked in dark red. The overwhelming majority of the city was shaded in red, with only small areas in dark red.

To test ultrafast 5G, I drove to six locations that Verizon advertised as having the fast connection and used the Speedtest app from Ookla, a network diagnostics company.

At three of the locations in the city’s Marina district and Mission district, I was immediately disappointed. I walked up and down the streets, constantly refreshing websites and running the Speedtest app, but there was no superfast signal to be found. Instead, I got 4G or vanilla 5G connections.

Verizon said its engineers walked those same streets in the Marina over the weekend and were able to find the superfast 5G connection in one location but confirmed the signal had weakened in the other. (Verizon didn’t immediately comment on the location in the Mission district.)

That led me to conclude that Verizon’s coverage map was unreliable.

Still, I drove to three other locations in the city’s Marina, Presidio Heights and South of Market districts. There, I finally found the fabled superfast 5G — and I was blown away.

Standing in front of a camera store in South of Market, I got 5G speeds reaching 2,160 megabits a second, which was 2,900 percent faster than 4G. Even where it was a tad slower — behind the Safeway parking lot in the Marina district — the 5G iPhone drew speeds of 668 megabits a second, which was 1,052 percent faster than 4G.

These were odd places to have blazing fast speeds, though. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, these areas did not have much foot traffic. The carriers have said ultrafast 5G speeds would be great for data-heavy tasks like streaming video, but I had no desire to do much streaming while standing on those street corners.

Why the nondescript locations? Karen Schulz, a Verizon spokeswoman, said the company ran into complex engineering tasks in San Francisco. While ultrafast 5G relies on access to light poles, most of the city’s utilities infrastructure is underground. Verizon’s progress to deploy 5G has run into red tape, she said.

When I tested the new iPhones on the vanilla 5G network, any speed improvement was hardly noticeable. In the best cases, vanilla 5G was twice as fast as 4G, or 209 megabits a second compared with 103 megabits on 4G. But in some locations, 5G was slower than 4G. In one part of the Mission district, for instance, 5G speeds reached 28 megabits a second compared with 39 megabits on 4G.

Ms. Schulz said that customers should initially expect the 5G Nationwide network to perform like 4G, and that performance and coverage would grow over time.

I’m not sure that’s good enough. I’ve reviewed phones over the past 12 years and covered the transition from 2G to 3G, and from 3G to 4G. I have never seen a network rollout this confusing and spotty — 5G, simply, is a mess.

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Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

Setting aside the network issues, there’s still a handset to review — and that brings much better news.

The design changes to the new iPhones are substantive. The iPhone 12 has a fancy OLED screen, a more modern display technology. So it looks brighter and has more accurate colors than the iPhone 11, which used LCD screen technology. (OLED was previously exclusive to Apple’s high-end iPhones.) The edges of the phone are also now flat instead of round.

The changes have helped the handset shed some weight and thickness while maintaining a roomy 6.1-inch screen. It felt much more comfortable inside my pants pockets than the iPhone 11, which always seemed too thick.

Apple also said it had strengthened the display glass, making it four times less likely to break. It’s difficult to test that scientifically, but I dropped the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro several times by accident on hard surfaces. They survived without any scuffs.

Also new is a charging mechanism that Apple calls MagSafe. It’s basically a new standard to support faster charging via magnetic induction. The new standard will open doors to other companies to make accessories that magnetically attach to iPhones, such as miniature wallets.

I tested both the MagSafe charger and Apple’s MagSafe wallet. But I preferred charging with a normal wire because it was faster, as well as carrying my own wallet, because it can hold more cards.

There’s a major downside to all of the new features: We have to pay a lot for these phones. Apple is also no longer including charging bricks or earphones with the new iPhones since so many people already own power bricks and fancy wireless earbuds. While that will lead to less waste, this shift and the price jump may annoy plenty of people.

It’s tough to recommend splurging on a fancy phone in a pandemic. But here are three quick questions to ask yourself about whether it’s time to upgrade:

  • Can I still get software updates on my current phone?

  • Is my device repairable for a reasonable cost?

  • Am I happy with my phone?

If you answered no to any of the above questions, you will probably be happy investing in this upgrade.

But if you answered yes, wait it out. In a few years, the carriers will probably have a better handle on 5G. At that point, it may even be safe enough to leave the house again and reap the benefits of the mobile companions we carry everywhere.