These investments are neither mysterious nor confusing. They are bets that companies with advertising revenue will be able to produce more advertising revenue, or that maybe they will be purchased by companies with even more advertising revenue. Their editorial pitches might be different but their investment pitches are the same: They are, effectively, ad agencies for Facebook or or for YouTube or for Twitter or for Pinterest or for whatever new thing comes along.
I wonder how we should see traditional newspapers if we use the same definition. Ad agencies for kiosks? The main difference of course is that these newspapers used to also rely on subscriptions. And a subscription model leads to more trustworthy journalism.
An ad-based model on the other hand, only makes you look for more traffic – even when it hurts journalism.
To be honest, this is the cynical me talking today.
Because I just as much admire the tech journalism by The Verge, the competing-with-Wikipedia-quest of Ezra Klein and their incredible design skills.
PS. By the way, by its own definition, The Awl is also an ad agency.