The Media Industry Laid Off A Thousand People In January. It May Not Be Over.

Staff cuts at BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Gannett, Yahoo and AOL marked a horrible month for journalism.
The Wrap

More than a thousand people in the media industry have lost their jobs in January, in what has been one of the most brutal months for industry layoffs in recent memory.

Big media companies ― including HuffPost, AOL, Yahoo, BuzzFeed, a bunch of newspapers under Gannett, and other brands ― saw sweeping cuts as executives blamed Google and Facebook’s duopoly in the online advertising market for the ongoing decline of digital media.

The scene was particularly grim at BuzzFeed on Friday, where many talented reporters were getting the axe as the company began cutting its staff by 15 percent. By the end of the day, BuzzFeed was expected to lay off about 220 people.

Employees said on Twitter that the outlet’s national security desk and its Spain bureau were completely decimated. One outgoing editorial staffer told HuffPost that at least 38 had been cut from the news desk. That staffer said one reporter was at Sundance working for BuzzFeed when the individual was laid off.

As the weekend approached, some BuzzFeed staff were headed to a local bar to mourn with their colleagues ― on a tab that was funded in part by the public, no less. Others were dunking on CEO Jonah Peretti, who reportedly offered to bring dogs to the office next Monday for emotional support. The outgoing editorial staffer told HuffPost that they were worried about getting paid for their unused accrual of paid time off.

BuzzFeed is reportedly mulling a merger with Group Nine ― a big digital publisher that owns Thrillist, The Dodo and others ― to save itself. Group Nine, of course, has had layoff woes of its own over the past few years.

Here at HuffPost, we lost 20 employees on Thursday as our parent company, Verizon Media, laid off 7 percent of its staff. In total, about 800 employees across several brands, including AOL and Yahoo, were cut. The 20 laid-off employees at HuffPost represented the dismantling of our entire opinion and health sections, as well as extremely talented reporters like Pulitzer Prize finalist Jason Cherkis.

HuffPost’s union, the Writers Guild of America, East, said in a statement on Thursday: “A number of good people lost their jobs as part of company-wide layoffs, despite Verizon taking in nearly $4 billion in government funded tax breaks last year and a promise that workers will ‘share in the company’s success.’”

Gannett suffered cuts in a variety of its newsrooms nationwide, at papers like The Arizona Republic, the Coloradoan and The Record in New Jersey. Some 400 people may have been laid off in that sweep.

All these layoffs followed a bad fourth quarter of 2018 as well: In October, Refinery29 announced a cut of 40 employees, while Super Deluxe said it would shut down. In November, laid off the majority of its employees.

While January was bad for newsrooms everywhere, media experts expect to see staff numbers continue to slowly shrink before multiple outlets eventually close.

“I think we’re in a scary time,” Joel Kaplan, associate dean for professional graduate studies at the Newhouse School, told AdWeek on Thursday. “We’ll see consolidation and cuts, cuts, cuts, and the next phase will be closures. Disaster is looming; that’s when disaster will hit.”

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