BuzzFeed News, one of the signature news brands of the last decade, is shutting down. Jonah Peretti, co-founder and CEO of parent company BuzzFeed, told employees in an email on April 20 that the company will discontinue its namesake news vertical and focus instead on HuffPost, a news brand that Peretti also co-founded, and which BuzzFeed bought from Verizon Media in 2020.
About 180 people, or 15% of the company’s 1,200 employees in total, will be laid off. Some news employees will reportedly be reassigned to different units in the company. BuzzFeed’s journalists in the US are unionized and represented by the NewsGuild of New York. Peretti acknowledged that some union employees would be affected.
Award-winning journalism and a bad SPAC deal
In his memo to staff, published by the New York Times, Peretti blamed “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” for his decision to close the news website.
BuzzFeed embodied the duality of modern journalism: Its light-hearted quizzes, lists, and tongue-in-cheek writing style pulled the stodgy news establishment into its orbit all while replicating, at times, the best elements of old-guard reportage. BuzzFeed cleaved off BuzzFeed News as a separate business unit from its entertainment reportage in 2016. BuzzFeed News’ investigative unit, which has since been disassembled, won a 2021 Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on Chinese detention camps for Muslims in Xinjiang. Also in 2021, BuzzFeed bought digital publisher Complex Networks for $300 million.
BuzzFeed was heavily backed by venture capital money and long planned an initial public offering, at one point worth about $1.5 billion. The company went public in 2021 by merging with a SPAC, a blank-check company, though its stock price has been decimated since its Nasdaq debut. (BuzzFeed stock was originally around $10 per share but fell south of $1 per share on today’s news.)
The SPAC deal was doomed from the start, critics and employees alleged, as investors heavily withdrew their investments, but BuzzFeed went forward with the deal anyway. Employees also criticized the company’s management for issuing them class-B stock that was difficult to cash out.
Over the past year, investors have reportedly pushed Peretti to shut down its news operation. Today, those investors got what they wished for.
Journalists mourn BuzzFeed News
On Twitter, the de facto home of journalists and the central gathering place for mourning dead and diseased news properties, the mood was grim. “This is such a shame,” the writer Amanda Katz wrote. “I am still mystified that you could run a digital media company that was doing such important investigative and cultural work into the ground within so few years.”
“BuzzFeed News funneled venture capital into something genuinely very useful and necessary: High-quality reporting freely available for anyone to read,” HuffPost reporter Alexander Kaufman wrote. “It was the envy of every reporter who entered journalism in the chaotic 2010s and didn’t work there. What a loss.”
Peretti’s memo ended with a deflated attempt at inspiration: “It might not feel this way today, but I am confident that the future of digital media is ours for the taking,” he wrote. “Our industry is hurting and ready to be reborn.”