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Buzzfeed shuts down news arm

The media outlet is laying off 15% of its workforce and claims it can’t afford news, the group’s CEO has announced

Digital media empire Buzzfeed is shutting down its news brand, blaming a sluggish ad market and declining audience numbers in a letter from CEO Jonah Peretti published to Twitter on Thursday. 

The CEO cited the combined pressures of “a pandemic, a fading SPAC market that yielded less capital, a tech recession, a tough economy, a declining stock market, a decelerating digital advertising market and ongoing audience and platform shifts” in his decision to axe Buzzfeed’s Pulitzer-winning news desk. He admitted his own “love” of Buzzfeed News’ “work and mission” had blinded him to its unsustainable nature – but not before blaming Big Tech for not supporting that mission. 

“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. 

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The company will unite its news efforts under the HuffPost brand, bought by Buzzfeed in 2020, and which Peretti described as “profitable with a highly engaged, loyal audience that is less dependent on social platforms.” The platform will absorb some of the redundant Buzzfeed News employees, Peretti said. 

Buzzfeed is laying off 15% of employees across its entire workforce, its second major round of cuts in less than six months after the company cut 12% of its staff in December.

The outlet has reportedly cut 40% of newsroom staff over the last year, leaning on the few employees left to produce even more content, according to Vanity Fair. 

After announcing in January that it was incorporating AI tools into workflow but stressing it would only be used to “enhance” and “personalize” content, Buzzfeed recently began publishing wholly AI-generated articles produced by non-editorial staff. The company defended the result as an “experiment” meant to “enhance human creativity” by allowing non-writers to get their ideas into print.

Buzzfeed News was the first media outlet to publish the Steele dossier, the compilation of unverified rumors by former MI6 agent Christopher Steele which suggested former US president Donald Trump was a Russian agent. 

Several individuals mentioned in the dossier subsequently sued the company, and while Buzzfeed beat one suit and another was retracted, revelations about the origins of the dossier did not help the news outlet’s credibility. Steele has since admitted he put together the report to provide failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with a legal basis to challenge the 2016 election.

April 21, 2023 at 12:43AM

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