After 11 years of high-profile scoops and multiple nods from the Pulitzer Prizes, BuzzFeed News will close, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced Thursday.
The company will also lay off roughly 15% of its total workforce, representing approximately 180 people. Peretti shared the news in a memo to staff, stating that the cuts will affect nearly every division of the company and are a consequence of recent financial challenges.
“We’ve faced more challenges than I can count in the past few years: 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,” Peretti wrote.
BuzzFeed will concentrate its newsgathering efforts on HuffPost, Peretti wrote. (BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost from Verizon Media in 2020). Unlike BuzzFeed News, HuffPost is profitable, thanks to a “highly engaged, loyal audience” that is not as dependent on social platforms, he wrote. HuffPost and BuzzFeed.com will open some roles to BuzzFeed News employees.
Stories published on BuzzFeedNews.com will be preserved, spokesperson Carole Robinson wrote in an email. Robinson did not answer a question about when the newsroom, which has 59 people, will be shut down.
Chief revenue officer Edgar Hernandez and chief operating officer Christian Baesler will also leave the company as part of the changes, Peretti wrote in his memo.
BuzzFeed started its news division in 2011, appointing Ben Smith — who later served as media columnist at The New York Times before founding Semafor — as editor-in-chief. Over the next decade, the newsroom became known for its ambitious reporting, especially during Donald Trump’s presidency.
One of the most high-profile and controversial moments came in 2017, when BuzzFeed News decided to publish the “Steele dossier,” a cache of classified documents that claimed Russia had compromising information on Trump.
A number of media outlets had declined to publish the documents because they contained errors and were filled with unverified allegations — which BuzzFeed News acknowledged in its story. At least two groups sued BuzzFeed News for defamation due to claims made in the dossier.
BuzzFeed News’ investigative team established a reputation for its striking scoops and hard-hitting investigations. In 2021, the newsroom won its first Pulitzer Prize for a four-part series that identified more than 260 structures that China had secretly built to detain Uyghur Muslims.
That same year, BuzzFeed News was named a Pulitzer finalist for its FinCEN Files series, a collaboration with the International Consortium of Journalists to investigate corruption in the global banking industry.
But even as BuzzFeed News racked up awards, the division struggled to make a profit, and the company moved to whittle down the newsroom. In 2019, the company axed the newsroom’s national desk, along with a couple dozen other journalists.
Last year, BuzzFeed held two more rounds of cutbacks after the company merged with a special purpose acquisition company to go public in December. In its first few days as a public company, BuzzFeed floundered. Its stock, initially priced at $10 a share, halved within a week, and 77 current and former employees sued BuzzFeed, claiming that they had been unable to sell their shares before they plummeted.
In spring 2022, BuzzFeed dismantled the newsroom’s investigations, politics, inequality and science teams. Many of BuzzFeed News’ top editors left, including editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs. BuzzFeed News would instead focus on breaking news and culture and entertainment news, Peretti said at the time.
In the wake of those cuts, CNBC reported that several shareholders had urged Peretti to shut down BuzzFeed News, which was losing $10 million a year.
BuzzFeed then laid off roughly 12% of its workforce due to “challenging macroeconomic conditions” in December. The company ultimately suffered a net loss of $201.3 million in the 2022 fiscal year. In a press release from the company’s most recent quarterly earnings report, Peretti said that the “challenges” BuzzFeed faced in the fourth quarter of 2022 continued to impact the company in 2023.
In his Thursday memo to staff, Peretti wrote that he had overinvested in BuzzFeed News and that he wished he had tried to make the company more profitable so that it could better weather economic downturns.
“I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much,” Peretti wrote. “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.”
Poynter media business analyst Rick Edmonds said that while he found the news “unfortunate,” it wasn’t totally unexpected. It is not uncommon for digital startups to fold after their content and business models become outdated, he said.
“It’s hard to change your business model or branch into a different kind of content once you’ve made the mold,” Edmonds said. “I think they fell victim to that.”
Peretti shared in his memo that BuzzFeed will focus on “creators, AI, and cultural moments” across its brands. (Robinson said that no jobs are being replaced by artificial intelligence). The company will also make similar changes on its business side, Peretti wrote. BuzzFeed will share more of its business plans at a meeting next week, and it will release its first-quarter results on May 9.