LONDON — BuzzFeed will shut its local U.K. and Australia news operations due to a decline in advertising revenue exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown, the company confirmed on Thursday. The move comes just a week after the digital news site named Mark Schoofs as the new chief of its news division in the U.S.
BuzzFeed said the decision to shut the regional offices was due to “economic and strategic reasons” and the focus will now be on news that “hits big in the U.S., during this difficult period.” It is understood the closures affect 14 employees, 10 of whom are in the U.K.
A spokesperson said BuzzFeed is furloughing four of its “non-bargaining unit employees” who report in to the U.S. “because their jobs are no longer essential during this time of sharply limited resources.”
In the U.K., BuzzFeed said it plans to retain some employees who are focused on news “with a global audience,” such as social and celebrity coverage, and investigations. The company said it plans to start consultations with other employees about layoffs linked to the two regional closures.
The spokesperson confirmed that BuzzFeed “is still investing heavily in news, and will spend about $10 million more than it takes in, and roughly $6 million” this year and in 2021.
The company also confirmed that it has promoted Tom Namako to the role of deputy editor in chief, and on Friday will lay out the details of a new editorial structure and vision.
The U.S. digital site, which made its name publishing “listicles,” quirky takes on news and memes galore, launched in the U.K. in 2013, and rapidly expanded into investigative and political coverage. The staff was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in International Reporting for its investigation into a raft of murders linked to Vladimir Putin.
The arrival of COVID-19 and the evaporation of ad revenue in the U.K. and Australia pushed BuzzFeed further into financial trouble.
According to Companies House, the official register of U.K. businesses, turnover for the U.K. site fell by more than one-third to 21.5 million in the year ending Dec. 31, 2018. Losses widened to 9.4 million pounds from 2.3 million pounds in the previous period.
BuzzFeed announced Schoofs as head of the news division last week.
A Pulitzer Prize winner, Schoofs is currently a visiting professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. He had created BuzzFeed’s investigations team in 2014 and has also worked at The Village Voice, The Wall Street Journal and ProPublica during his 30-year career.
As reported, Schoofs, who will be based in Los Angeles, joins BuzzFeed at a trying time.
BuzzFeed was one of the first major news outlets to implement pay cuts due to a coronavirus-related slump in advertising. It is also reportedly trying to offload its German operations.