Buzzfeed, the American digital media company, laid off 47 journalists at the HuffPost Newsroom on Tuesday, three weeks after acquiring it. The media company also shut down HuffPost Canada and Quebec publications on Tuesday.
HuffPost published a report on Buzzfeed announcing the mass lay offs, stating losses worth $20 million incurred by the news and blogging website during the Covid-19 pandemic in 202o.
In November 2020, a deal was made public between HuffPost, Verizon Media and Buzzfeed. As per the deal, HuffPost and Buzzfeed would operate as “separate, distinct news organisations” with their own editorial staff while BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti would head the combined company. Soon, HuffPost India was shut down on November 24, 2020 as the new acquisition deal had left out HuffPost India and Brazil.
Buzzfeed had told The Wire that it would have been impossible for them to operate in India with the Foreign Direct Investment restrictions which the Centre had capped at 26% of equity in digital media.
In February, HuffPost Union announced on Twitter that the editorial staff of HuffPost Canada and Quebec had officially filed for the Canada union certification.
Today the workers of HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec officially filed to join @cwacanada1.
We are proud to work at HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec. We are unionizing to make it the best workplace possible. https://t.co/Yjx864UDrL
— HuffPost Canada Union (@HuffpostCAUnion) February 23, 2021
On Tuesday, HuffPost Canada and Quebec released a statement saying: “As of March 9, HuffPost Canada will no longer be publishing content. Existing content will be maintained as an online archive; however, certain site features were permanently disabled as of March 12. For more great journalism, please visit HuffPost.com. We are grateful for your support and readership. As of March 9, HuffPost Quebec will no longer publish content. Existing content will be kept as an online archive; however, some features of the site have been permanently disabled. For more global content, please visit HuffPost.com. We thank you for your support and readership.”
Following this, the HuffPost Union released their statement through a Twitter thread stating: “Today, we learned that 33 of our unit members — nearly 30% of our unit — are being laid off. Our union’s statement: “We are devastated and infuriated, particularly after an exhausting year of covering a pandemic and working from home.”
“This is also happening less than a month after HuffPost was acquired by BuzzFeed. We never got a fair shot to prove our worth. These layoffs reiterate the importance of forming a union and advocating for our colleagues. We are glad that we are protected by a collective bargaining agreement and that our colleagues will receive severance,” the tweet read.
Extending their support, HuffPost Union wrote: “Our union will continue fighting to make HuffPost a more just and equitable workplace, including pushing for clear and accountable commitments to hiring and promoting more people of colour and for transparency around pay equity.”
In an attempt at restructuring the organisation to deal with the financial losses, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said in the HuffPost report: “Though BuzzFeed is a profitable company, we don’t have the resources to support another two years of losses.”
“We want to ensure the homepage remains a top destination on the internet. We also want to maintain high traffic, preserve your most powerful journalism, lean more deeply into politics and breaking news, and build a stronger business for affiliate revenue and shopping content,” he said in the report.
Among the 47 journalists laid off, most of them have worked for a minimum of eight to 10 years including Hillary Frey, the site’s executive editor, and Louise Roug, the executive editor for international.
According to the Toronto Star, Samantha Beattie (senior journalist at HuffPost) said that a meeting was held on Monday with Peretti at 12pm. The staff were sent a zoom link with the password “spring is here”.
To clarify, they told us we were being laid off, last day March 15, and then posted this message to our website immediately after. We were not aware that we'd no longer have a HuffPost Canada page.
— Samantha Beattie (@Samantha_KB) March 9, 2021
Five minutes prior to the meeting, the union’s lawyers were informed regarding the layoffs at 11:55 am.
Melanie Woods, an audio producer with HuffPost Canada, told the Toronto Star that “contract employees were not invited to the meeting and instead found out second-hand from full-time employees who’d attended”.
Woods also said that the entire staff at the Canadian offices were informed shortly after the company-wide meeting.
“Our managers here in Canada did not know ahead of time,” she added.
The ongoing financial crisis due to the Covid-19 has also affected BuzzFeed, which had enforced a pay cut for many employees during the 2020 summer and laid off around 6% of its workforce.
The media industry suffered a massive setback during the pandemic-induced economic crisis in 2020, with numerous journalists across the globe losing their jobs. In India, The Times of India Group had announced pay-cuts and layoffs in April 2020. Journalists from BCCL’s business paper, The Economic Times, were also asked to leave in May 2020. In December 2020, the Times Group had announced that two of its daily publications, Mumbai Mirror and Pune Mirror – will cease publication. Mumbai Mirror will be relaunched as a weekly and will continue to have a strong digital presence.
Other media houses in India that faced similar a crisis were the Indian Express Group, Hindustan Times Media Limited, Business Standard Limited and the Quintillion Media Private Limited.
Bloomberg News, the financial news company and one of the world’s largest news organisation, had sent a memo to the staff informing that around 90 journalists will be laid off to restructure its newsroom in February 2021. The memo mentioned that the restructuring of the newsroom would include laying off mostly senior editors.