BuzzFeed, HuffPost feel pinch in faltering digital-news economy
BuzzFeed, the progenitor of both serious news and viral listicles and quizzes, will lay off about 15 percent of its staff in the latest sign of financial turbulence for once-highflying digital-media outlets.
People at the New York-based publisher said the cuts will affect about 215 employees spread across all departments, including BuzzFeed News, the site that published a disputed report last week about President Trump and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
The workforce cutback, according to people at the company, has been in the works for months and is unrelated to the Cohen article, which reported that Trump had coached Cohen to lie to Congress about a proposed construction project in Moscow.
Traditional media organizations, such as newspaper and TV stations, have been buffeted for years by the transition to a digital economy, with some of their readers and advertising base siphoned away by the likes of BuzzFeed, Vice and HuffPost.
But over the past several months, digital companies have faced some of the same issues, as profits have proven elusive in an advertising market dominated by two giants — Google and Facebook.
Vice has instituted a hiring freeze and is seeking to cut its workforce by about 10 to 15 percent this year, primarily through attrition. Verizon Media Group, the owner of HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo, announced its own round of layoffs of about 7 percent Wednesday.
Other digital-news outlets, such as Refinery29, Vox Media and Mic, have been pinched, too. Vox — the Washington-based publisher of Vox, SB Nation and other sites — cut about 50 staffers early last year. Refinery29, which is aimed at millenial women, dropped about 10 percent of its staff, or about 40 people, in October.
Mic, another site aimed at millenials, laid off its entired editorial staff in November. Its name and other other assets were acquired by a competitor, Bustle Digital Group.
Journalists at traditional media outlets continued to be pink-slipped, too.
Gannett Co., based in Tyson’s Corner, Va., trimmed newsroom jobs at several of its newspapers on Wednesday. Among those let go at Gannett’s Arizona Republic was cartoonist Steve Benson, who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and was a finalist for the award four other times.
BuzzFeed, which was co-founded in 2006 by its current chief executive, Jonah Peretti, has evolved from a purveyor of fluffy but popular content into a digital news star. Under editor Ben Smith, a former journalist at Politico, it has developed a formidable newsroom. Its series on assassinations of Russians opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize last year. One of the co-writers of that series, Jason Leopold, was a co-author of the Trump-Cohen story that was disputed by the office of special counsel Robert Mueller III last week.
But the privately held company has been unable to turn a profit, despite generating about $300 million in revenue last year, a 15 percent increase over 2017.
The layoff reflects “challenges in our industry,” said one person briefed on BuzzFeed’s plans, but also is an effort to bring the company’s costs in line with its various divisions, including news, documentary video production and licensing. The company produces videos for Netflix, Oxygen and others.
BuzzFeed had an earlier round of layoffs in 2017, amounting to about 7 percent of the company, when its revenue fell short of projections, scotching plans for a public stock offering.