Just a few weeks after BuzzFeed completed its acquisition of The Huffington Post, the latter is facing editorial layoffs.
The digital outlet said Tuesday that 47 staffers, mostly in editorial, are being cut and that the entirety of its operations in Canada will be closed. Coverage in Australia is also being reduced and a process looking at reducing staff there and in the U.K. is getting underway.
Those being cut include many editors, reporters and producers covering news beats like education, polling, business, entertainment, healthcare and culture. Hillary Frey, HuffPost’s executive editor and Louise Roug, executive editor for HuffPost International, are also leaving the outlet.
In an email to staff, BuzzFeed founder and chief executive officer Jonah Peretti said the cuts will create “a fast-track to profitability.” Peretti was one of the original founders of HuffPost, which he left to start BuzzFeed in 2006.
He added that HuffPost lost more than $20 million last year “and would be similar this year without intervention.”
“Though BuzzFeed is a profitable company, we don’t have the resources to support another two years of losses,” Peretti wrote.
The union of HuffPost’s editorial team in the U.S. put the layoffs in stark terms, saying the cuts account for “nearly 30 percent” of its bargaining unit.
“We are devastated and infuriated, particularly after an exhausting year of covering a pandemic and working from home,” the union group wrote in a statement.
Given their union representation by Writers Guild of America East, however, members affected by the layoffs will receive severance based on length of employment.
BuzzFeed only completed its all-stock acquisition of HuffPost in mid-February. At the time, BuzzFeed reiterated what it had said at the time the merger was announced in November, that HuffPost would “operate as its own distinct brand” and would “remain separate and independent” from BuzzFeed.
The HuffPost union took issue with the apparent speed of the layoffs post-merger, saying, “We never got a fair shot to prove our worth.”
How staffers were informed of layoffs is also irking many. There is said to have been a staff meeting abruptly called today at noon EST, with no notice or allusion to the topic. Then Peretti informed the staff that nearly 50 of them would be let go. He did not say whom, but that emails to those affected were being sent until 1 p.m. If you didn’t receive an email by then, you could expect to remain employed.
A BuzzFeed spokesman said the intention was speed. “The goal is to inform the people who were affected as quickly as possible.”
It’s a method used last year when BuzzFeed informed staffers in April of furloughs due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on its business. Before the pandemic caused essentially all staffers to work from home, the method of layoffs was to email those affected individually and set up on-on-one meetings. And the reduction in staff at HuffPost is also similar to what BuzzFeed has gone through in the last two years in an effort to become profitable. That is the goal of the layoffs, the spokesman said; reduce the size of HuffPost in order to get the business to break even this year.
But further layoffs are not expected. “This is it,” the spokesman said. And the HuffPost newsroom is said to remain larger than that of BuzzFeed News.
While BuzzFeed has claimed the two sites would remain separate, the goal of the merger is to “syndicate” content across both sites while also creating an outlet of larger scale to lure advertisers and more lucrative digital ad rates. Despite talk in recent years of how much advertisers like “engagement,” the metric of how much time online readers spend with an article or video, overall audience size and traffic is still the central force drawing online advertisers and setting rates.
HuffPost is still searching for an editor in chief to succeed Lydia Polgreen, who left the site a year ago to to head up content at podcast company Gimlet, owned by Spotify. But Peretti told staff amid the layoff announcement that the search is nearing its end and “a group of finalists” is being considered. An announcement on that front is expected in the coming weeks.
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