BuzzFeed News is shutting down after 11 years. In a memo sent to staff Thursday morning, BuzzFeed cofounder and CEO Jonah Peretti called the decision to fold BuzzFeed’s Pulitzer Prize–winning online news site “deeply painful.” The decision hinged on “a fading SPAC market that yielded less capital,” a “decelerating digital advertising market,” and “ongoing audience and platform shifts,” among other reasons, Peretti wrote. The news comes alongside additional company-wide layoffs—15% job cuts “across nearly every division.” Peretti took BuzzFeed Inc. public in 2021 by merging with a special purpose acquisition company.
“I’m shocked and sad but not totally surprised,” Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s former longtime editor in chief, told Vanity Fair via text upon hearing the news, adding that it made him “heartsick.” (Part of Smith’s forthcoming book, Traffic, charts the history of BuzzFeed, with the outlet expanding from a quirky offshoot of the Huffington Post, which Peretti cofounded, to a sprawling digital media enterprise with a Pulitzer-winning news division.)
“It’s a sad day,” another former senior newsroom figure agreed. “BuzzFeed News produced some incredible journalism, and journalists, and for a time challenged the dominance of mainstay media institutions in a way that was incredibly important. It also feels like this was a long time coming—the place has been a shell of itself through successive layoffs and with leadership never figuring out how to turn it into a sustainable business.”
During a meeting with newsroom staff on Thursday, Peretti was pressed by employees about what went wrong. BuzzFeed News was ahead of its Q1 goals for direct sales, one staffer told Vanity Fair, though another source with knowledge of the business said BuzzFeed News was the only part of the company that remained unprofitable, adding that the company needed to focus on revenue-accelerating businesses and initiatives.
“You told us that we had a year to be profitable,” said one staffer, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Vanity Fair. “You told us that we had a certain amount of time, you cut our newsroom down to the bone—we are all sinew and bone at this point,” they said.
Peretti responded by citing the “continued deterioration of macro conditions,” which he said “required breaking promises and changing plans.” “I wish we had more time,” he added—an answer that prompted the staffer to push back: Employees were only looped into conversations about profitability this year, they said. “So it wasn’t a lack of time, Jonah. You had a decade.” Peretti ultimately conceded that the company “should have started much earlier to focus on the profitability of BuzzFeed News, and not just the amazing journalism and work that we did.”
In many ways the writing was on the wall. BuzzFeed’s stock has struggled since day one of trading, and the company has repeatedly taken cost cutting measures. Newsroom-wide buyouts last spring gutted BuzzFeed News’ acclaimed investigations team, as well as its science, politics, and inequality verticals. Top editors and talent fled the site. BuzzFeed’s once roughly 100-person newsroom had reportedly downsized by about 40% in the past year. Meanwhile, BuzzFeed News editor Karolina Waclawiak last month asked the reporters still at the site to produce even more content. Peretti has also been embracing AI, announcing earlier this year that he would have the technology play a larger role in the company’s editorial and business operations, including by having it create some content. Futurism reported last month that BuzzFeed, despite Peretti’s pledge to use the technology to assist, not replace, journalists, had “quietly started publishing fully AI-generated articles that are produced by noneditorial staff.”
In his note to staff, Peretti acknowledged management mistakes broadly, saying he “could have managed these changes better as the CEO of this company and our leadership team could have performed better despite these circumstances.” BuzzFeed Inc. still owns HuffPost and Complex Networks. Peretti said the company “will concentrate our news efforts in HuffPost, a brand that is profitable with a highly engaged, loyal audience that is less dependent on social platforms.” BuzzFeed acquired HuffPost, the rebranded Huffington Post, in 2020.
“HuffPost and BuzzFeed Dot Com have signaled that they will open a number of select roles for members of BuzzFeed News,” the memo said.