Major layoffs at BuzzFeed end rocky week in journalism

January 25, 2019
Category: Business & Work

BuzzFeed’s meteoric rise in the digital world took a serious tumble Friday. With its fall, the worst week in recent journalism memory ended with even more depressing news.

Major layoffs at BuzzFeed.

The news was not unexpected, but it still rocked the media world when BuzzFeed began slashing its staff. The entire national news desk was purged, according to a tweet from the deputy national editor. Business Insider reported that BuzzFeed News’s national-security team, health desk and Spain bureau will shut down, but that the tech and politics staffs will remain intact.

In all, 43 staffers at BuzzFeed News were laid off, according to CNN’s Oliver Darcy. Business Insider reported BuzzFeed News had about 300 staffers before the layoffs.

In a memo to staff, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith said all who have been let go in the U.S. news division have been notified and wrote, in part, “We are losing a lot of excellent colleagues — reporters, editors and geniuses at making stories look great and reach a big audience.”

He concluded by writing, “We can talk Tuesday about what’s next, and how to emerge from this a strong, focused newsroom. I’m confident that we will continue to do distinctive work on the biggest stories, and punch above our weight. … I know it’s been a hard day.”

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None of this is surprising. Earlier this week, BuzzFeed said it was going to lay off 15 percent of its workforce, or about 220 staffers. The Washington Post reported Thursday that the company “has not been profitable for years,’’ and “has raised hundreds of millions from such as investors as Comcast’s NBCUniversal.’’

In a memo to the staff acquired by Variety, CEO Jonah Peretti said the company wants to “focus on content that is working.’’ He also wrote, “the restructuring … will reduce our costs and improve our operating model so we can thrive and control our own destiny, without ever needing to raise funding again.’’

Peretti is the mastermind behind BuzzFeed. After helping to found The Huffington Post, Peretti, along with John S. Johnson III, started BuzzFeed in 2006 as a side project to track viral content. It soon developed into a billion-dollar media company, best known for viral posts, quizzes and lists.

BuzzFeed was fun and addictive, a perfect way to kill time on the internet.

But then in 2011, it turned serious, too. It started a news division, which quickly earned a solid reputation, featuring reporters with Pulitzer Prizes on their resumes.

Just last week, BuzzFeed News stunned the country with a report that said President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia. (A spokesman for the federal investigation disputed the story, but did not say what was inaccurate about it.)

Still, BuzzFeed News had become a major player on the media landscape, winning major awards and breaking several stories on the Trump-Russia investigation and the Kevin Spacey sexual misconduct allegations.

Now we will see what’s left when the layoffs are over. As Friday came to a close, reporters at BuzzFeed News started to tweet out their dismissals, such as national reporter Hannah Allam, investigative reporter Chris McDaniel and national security editor Mark Seibel.

Journalists and BuzzFeed readers across Twitter passed along words of encouragement and disappointment over the news, but not everyone was upset.

Actor James Woods celebrated the layoffs at BuzzFeed and Thursday’s layoffs at HuffPost, tweeting:

“Well, layoffs at #Buzzfeed and #HuffPo are victories for real journalism. The less #FakeNews the better …’’

So where does BuzzFeed go from here?

There are several reports that BuzzFeed could be sold or end up in a merger with Group Nine Media, another digital publisher. Recode reports the two have been discussing a merger, but nothing appears imminent.

BuzzFeed has not commented on Friday’s layoffs.

Friday’s layoffs at BuzzFeed came only days after massive cuts at Gannett and one day after layoffs at HuffPost.

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