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Home » BuzzFeed News stunner caps a wild week in media

BuzzFeed News stunner caps a wild week in media

This has been a wild week in media news.

The biggest news of all, of course, was the staggering Fox News-Dominion settlement. Then we had Twitter taking away blue verification check marks.

But no news was more stunning, depressing and worrisome than the news that broke Thursday:

BuzzFeed shut down its news division.

What a gut punch.

This is a pioneering and leading digital news outlet that won a Pulitzer Prize and, as my colleague Angela Fu wrote, produced “11 years of high-profile scoops.”

The New York Times’ Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson wrote, “It’s a sobering end for a pioneering publication once seen as a serious challenger to legacy media outlets that had been slow to adapt to the internet, and closes the final chapter of a venture-capital-fueled digital era that left an indelible mark on how journalism is produced and consumed.”

Founding editor Ben Smith, who now manages the news outlet Semafor, told the Times that he was “really sad” to hear the news, adding, “I’m proud of the work that BuzzFeed News did, but I think this moment is part of the end of a whole era of media. It’s the end of the marriage between social media and news.”

Worst of all, there’s the human cost.

BuzzFeed is laying off roughly 15% of its total workforce — or about 180 people.

BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Karolina Waclawiak told staff in a note, “I am deeply sorry. You deserve better. There is no reason this company couldn’t have built a business around BuzzFeed News far earlier.”

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti told staff, “I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much. 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 went on to write, “I want to explain a little more about why we’ve come to these deeply painful decisions. 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. Dealing with all of these obstacles at once is part of why we’ve needed to make the difficult decisions to eliminate more jobs and reduce spending.”

He then shouldered much of the blame, writing, “But I also want to be clear: I could have managed these changes better as the CEO of this company and our leadership team could have performed better despite these circumstances. Our job is to adapt, change, improve, and perform despite the challenges in the world. We can and will do better.”

In 2021 BuzzFeed won its first-ever Pulitzer Prize, in International Reporting, for a four-part series that identified more than 260 structures that China had secretly built to detain Uyghur Muslims.

That was a highlight in BuzzFeed News’ history. The most notable, and controversial, was the 2017 publication of the Steele dossier, a cache of classified documents that claimed Russia had compromising information on then-President Donald Trump.

As Fu wrote, “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.”

Still, it has a rich history and will be missed. The news division started in 2011 with Smith, who was brought over from Politico to create “the definitive social news organization.”

The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi and Elahe Izadi wrote, “BuzzFeed News employed reporters with impressive credentials to follow through on that vision, and its journalists were soon landing scoops, such as Republican Mitt Romney locking down Sen. John McCain’s endorsement in the 2012 presidential race. BuzzFeed carved a lane for itself in political journalism, with a research team unearthing politicians’ misbehavior and its reporters getting poached by more established media companies such as CNN and the New York Times.”

“But,” Fu wrote, “even as BuzzFeed News racked up awards, the division struggled to make a profit, and the company moved to whittle down the newsroom.”

That included cuts of its national desk and a couple dozen other reporters in 2019; two more rounds of cutbacks last year; and the dismantling of the newsroom’s investigations, politics, inequality and science teams last spring. In addition, many top editors left, including editor-in-chief Mark Schoofs.

Fu’s story has more details on the financial fall of BuzzFeed News.

My Poynter colleague Amaris Castillo reached out to BuzzFeed News staffers who were floored and heartbroken over Thursday’s news.

Senior reporter Albert Samaha told Castillo, “My heart dropped.”

In an email to Castillo, former staffer Megha Rajagopalan said, “I loved working at a place that had huge investigative ambition, but never took itself too seriously. It had an underdog spirit that often led to great, surprising reporting. When I joined, I thought it was amazing to work in a newsroom that had essentially no history, where no one would tell you you couldn’t do something just because no one had done it there before.”

Check out Castillo’s story for more reaction.

Ben Smith, the founding editor of BuzzFeed News, wrote about Thursday’s news for his Semafor site.

Smith wrote, “There will be a lot written today about the commercial mistakes we made at BuzzFeed and some of its competitors. Insider also announced Thursday that they’re laying off staff. My own regret is not aligning a strong business with our news operation from the start, something I knew little about and wasn’t particularly good at. Peretti is obviously right that he, and we, could have managed better.

“The last editor-in-chief, Karolina Waclawiak, had worked hard to align news more closely with a business built on intellectual property rather than traffic, and was making progress. But investors had been pressing Jonah to get out of the news business for years, and with interest rates up, ad sales down, and the stock trading under a dollar, the company ran out of time.

“But the end of BuzzFeed News also signals a vast shift in digital media that those of us who live inside it are feeling intensely right now, the end of one era and the beginning of another.”

He has many more thoughts, so be sure to read his take.

More bad business news in the world of media. I turn it over to my Poynter colleague Angela Fu for this item.

Insider will lay off roughly 10% of its staff, president Barbara Peng and CEO Henry Blodget announced in an email to staff Thursday morning.

The company has a global staff of 500 employees, according to Insider’s website. However, the layoffs will not affect international teams, reported The Daily Beast, which broke the news. In their email to staff, Peng and Blodget cited “economic headwinds.”

“As you know, our industry has been under significant pressure for more than a year. The economic headwinds that have hurt many of our clients and partners are also affecting us,” they wrote. “Unfortunately, to keep our company healthy and competitive, we need to reduce the size of our team. We have tried hard to avoid taking this step, and we are sorry about the impact it will have on many of you.”

The news came just hours before BuzzFeed announced that it would shut down its newsroom and lay off roughly 180 employees across the company. Since the start of the year, The Washington Post, NPR, ABC News, NBC News, MSNBC, Vox Media, Gannett, Lee Enterprises and McClatchy have all had layoffs.

Last week, Insider editor-in-chief Nicholas Carlson announced that a pilot group at the publication will experiment with generative artificial intelligence tools, like ChatGPT. An Insider spokesperson told Gizmodo that those experiments are unrelated to the layoffs.

Dan Bongino, shown here in 2014. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In surprising news — at least I found it surprising — Dan Bongino is out at Fox News. The conservative, Pro-Trump podcaster was a frequent guest on Fox News and after two years, in 2021, he built that into regular gigs as host of the weekend show “Unfiltered with Dan Bongino” and a Fox Nation streaming show called “Canceled in the USA.”

Bongino’s style certainly could be considered unfiltered as well as bombastic. The Daily Beast’s Justin Baragona called Bongino a “MAGA diehard” and “serial blowhard.” Yet, Bongino seemed to fit right in at Fox News and I would have guessed he was headed for an even bigger role at the network, maybe even a prime-time star waiting in the wings.

The news comes just days after Fox News settled its case with Dominion Voting Systems, but apparently his departure is because of a contract dispute. That’s what Bognino is claiming.

Bongino said on his podcast, “It’s not some big conspiracy theory, I promise you. There’s no acrimony. … We just couldn’t come to terms on an extension. That’s really it. I really enjoyed myself there. They were good for me for 10 years … It’s a sad day. They did give me the opportunity to do one last show, I don’t want you to think they showed me the door. That’s on me, not on them, but I thought it was best to go this way for now.”

In a statement, Fox News said, “We thank Dan for his contributions and wish him success in his future endeavors.”

According to Forbes’s Mark Joyella, who broke the story, Bongino’s Saturday night show did well in the ratings. In the first quarter of this year, the show averaged 1.3 million viewers. Last Saturday’s show averaged 1.179 million viewers, making it the network’s highest-rated show of the day.

And, poof, just like that, the blue check marks on Twitter have disappeared. Well, most of them.

On Thursday, as new owner Elon Musk promised, Twitter started purging the blue verified check marks next to the names of journalists, politicians, celebrities and other important figures. The blue checks were there to let users of the social media site know that the account was verified and credible.

But now, most of the blue check marks that remain are for those who pay for a Twitter Blue subscription. To be clear, the blue check mark doesn’t mean a person is verified, it only means that they are paying for it. That means the blue check mark that used to give a user credibility now provides no credibility at all.

While most media members playfully poked fun (and seemed not to care) that the blue check marks were going away, it did raise the point that Twitter users now need to be extremely careful when reading breaking news to make sure the account it’s coming from is authentic and the news is real.

As CNN’s Clare Duffy wrote, “The initial rollout of the change appeared to be fairly glitchy, as blue checks disappeared and reappeared on some accounts. Some other high-profile legacy verified accounts also didn’t seem to lose their checks, at least at first. The change — and its confusing rollout — threatens to create an even greater risk of impersonation of high-profile users and confusion over the veracity of information on the platform.”

Duffy added, “The decision to move forward with the change, after some confusing messaging, is just the latest example of Musk’s Twitter upending the experience for users — and in this case, not just any users, but many of the most high-profile accounts that have long been a key selling point for the platform. Prominent users such as actor William Shatner and anti-bullying activist Monica Lewinsky have previously pushed back against the idea that, as power users that draw attention to the site, they should have to pay for a feature that keeps them safe from impersonation.”

If you haven’t seen it yet, I cannot recommend this story enough. My Poynter colleague Angela Fu with a deep dive into an American newspaper: “The Buffalo News was the crown jewel of Warren Buffett’s news empire. Now it’s just another Lee paper.”

Fu talked to a dozen current and former employees about what they’ve seen happen to the paper under the ownership of Lee Enterprises. Fu tweeted, “For decades, The Buffalo News enjoyed the protection that came from being Warren Buffett’s only daily, avoiding the worst of the industry’s decline. That changed under Lee Enterprises.”

Major cutbacks have hit the paper. In the past four months, the paper has had $1 million cut from its newsroom budget. It has lost four veteran journalists and was told its design desk and print production would be outsourced.

This all comes after a remarkable 2022 as the staff covered a litany of tragedies. As Fu wrote, “First, there was the mass shooting on May 14, in which a white supremacist killed 10 Black people at a supermarket. A few months later, in August, writer Salman Rushdie was stabbed in Chautauqua, just 80 miles away. November saw a record-setting snowstorm, and disaster struck again in December when a blizzard killed 47.”

Some journalists at the Buffalo News wondered if bonuses were coming for all their hard work.

Then, just two days into 2023, Buffalo Bills player Damar Hamlin collapsed on the field during a “Monday Night Football” game and needed CPR to be revived.

Shortly after, Lee announced it wanted to cut $1 million from the budget.

Reporter Stephen Watson told Fu, “I tend to have a stiff upper lip when it comes to these things, but I can see it in the faces of some of my colleagues. It’s taken a toll. It’s taken a human toll. I don’t think they (Lee Enterprises) understand the value we provide, the service we provide to the community, the work that we’re doing here under difficult circumstances.”

This is a well-reported, well-written, must-read story.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at

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