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Liberal Journalism Takes a Hit — Buzzfeed Folds

Following yet another round of employee layoffs, Buzzfeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced Thursday that he would be terminating the news outlet for good. Those left in higher-level positions with the company will be absorbed into the Huffington Post. While Buzzfeed had been hemorrhaging readers for years, given their one-sided, sensationalist journalism style, the killing blow for the company seemed to be caused by a problem of leadership’s financial overinvestment, with the insufficient return being generated.  

CNN: BuzzFeed News will shut down

By Oliver Darcy; April 21, 2023

BuzzFeed News, the Pulitzer Prize-winning digital news website that took the internet by storm roughly a decade ago and inspired jealousy from legacy media organizations, will shutter, BuzzFeed chief executive Jonah Peretti announced Thursday.

The move was part of broader layoffs across BuzzFeed, Peretti said in a memo to staffers, with the company moving to slash 15% of its workforce, or 180 employees.

“While layoffs are occurring across nearly every division, we’ve determined that the company can no longer continue to fund BuzzFeed News as a standalone organization,” Peretti told staffers.

BuzzFeed has “begun discussions with the News Guild,” the union which represents staffers at the company, about the actions.

Peretti, who addressed the emotional newsroom for nearly an hour on Thursday morning, indicated that some staffers might be able to find roles at HuffPost, the digital news website that BuzzFeed acquired in a 2020 deal.

“HuffPost and BuzzFeed Dot Com have signaled that they will open a number of select roles for members of BuzzFeed News,” Peretti told employees. “These roles will be aligned with those divisions’ business goals and match the skills and strengths of many of BuzzFeed News’s editors and reporters.”

“Moving forward, we will have a single news brand in HuffPost, which is profitable, with a loyal direct front page audience,” Peretti added.

While jarring, the news was not particularly surprising. Years ago, BuzzFeed invested vast sums of money into its news product, poaching top journalists from legacy newsrooms and opening bureaus across the world. But the company in recent years has moved away from that approach, dramatically slimming down its newsroom.

The news that BuzzFeed News will shutter prompted an outpouring of messages posted online from former BuzzFeed News staffers who expressed sadness and dismay. “What a ferocious travesty and a huge loss to journalism,” John Paczkowski, a Forbes executive editor and former BuzzFeed News journalist wrote on Twitter. Kate Nocera, an Axios editor and former bureau chief at BuzzFeed News, noted that the news was “a long time coming,” but said it still “stings.”

Ben Smith, the founding editor-in-chief who left the outlet years ago and co-founded the digital upstart Semafor, told CNN that he is “heartsick” about the news.

“I do think it makes really clear the relationship between news publishers and social media is pretty much over,” Smith added, alluding to the fact that BuzzFeed’s growth was powered by the sudden growth of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter a decade ago.

Peretti said in his memo to staffers that the economic environment had played a role in the moves announced Thursday, but he also took part of the blame.

“I also want to be clear: I could have managed these changes better as the CEO of this company and our leadership team could have performed better despite these circumstances,” Peretti said.

“I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much,” he added. “This made me slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media.”

Peretti said that broadly speaking, he regretted that he didn’t “hold the company to higher standards for profitability, to give us the buffer needed to manage through economic and industry downturns and avoid painful days like today.”

“Our mission, our impact on culture, and our audience is what matters most,” Peretti said, “but we need a stronger business to protect and sustain this important work.”

A spokesperson for BuzzFeed News told CNN that there are “ongoing discussions” about the future of the outlet’s website, but said that all the work will be archived and available after the newsroom shutters.

BuzzFeed announced in January that it will use artificial intelligence to create content for its website. That announcement sent its stock spiking more than 150%, before it ultimately fell back down to where it was, reflecting the broader uncertainty in the industry. Thursday’s announcement of layoffs and the shuttering of BuzzFeed News also sent the company’s already dangerously low stock down another 20%.

Edgar Hernandez, chief revenue officer, and Christian Baesler, chief operating officer, will depart as part of the company changes, Peretti also said on Thursday. Marcela Martin, president, would “take on responsibility for all revenue functions effective immediately.”

BuzzFeed is not the only news organization facing struggles. Nearly every major news, media, and technology company has announced layoffs in recent months. Insider on Thursday, for instance, said it will lay off approximately 10% of its staff, telling employees in a memo that the “economic headwinds that have hurt many of our clients and partners are also affecting us.”

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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