BuzzFeed announced layoffs for the HuffPost newsroom on Tuesday, three weeks after acquiring HuffPost from Verizon Media in February.
Hillary Frey, the site’s executive editor, and Louise Roug, the executive editor for international, will be departing in a restructuring effort aimed at stemming financial losses.
HuffPost Canada will also shutter operations later this month.
A deal between BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Verizon Media was first made public in November. Verizon Media stated at the time that BuzzFeed and HuffPost would operate as “separate, distinct news organizations” with their own websites and editorial staff while BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti led the combined company.
It has been a particularly grim year for the media industry. The coronavirus pandemic undermined a business model already on shaky ground due to a massive shift in digital advertising spend toward tech giants Google and Facebook. Layoffs across the industry were on track to break records late last year, Variety reported.
Peretti told staffers that the decision, which will affect 47 U.S. employees, including eight in management, was made in order to “fast-track the path to profitability” for HuffPost, enabling the company to break even this year and eventually turn a profit. HuffPost’s losses totaled around $20 million in 2020, he said.
“Though BuzzFeed is a profitable company, we don’t have the resources to support another two years of losses,” Peretti said.
“We want to ensure the homepage remains a top destination on the internet,” he added. “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.”
Although the site has struggled financially for several years, some HuffPost staffers criticized the lack of resources expended to promote the site and its content under Verizon Media.
The HuffPost Union, organized as part of the Writers Guild of America, East, slammed the restructuring effort in a statement:
Today, we learned that 33 of our colleagues — nearly 30% of our unit — will be laid off. 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. 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 color and for transparency around pay equity.
Peretti co-founded HuffPost in 2005 with the site’s namesake, Arianna Huffington, along with Andrew Breitbart and Kenneth Lerer, before starting BuzzFeed the following year.
Frey has led the U.S. newsroom since Lydia Polgreen resigned as editor-in-chief one year ago to join the podcasting company Gimlet Media.
Mark Schoofs, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief, said last year that the search for HuffPost’s next editor-in-chief would begin immediately, and Peretti included an update in his comments.
“The group of finalists we are considering is extremely strong, diverse, and committed to the future of HuffPost,” he said. “We anticipate being able to make an offer and an announcement in the coming weeks.”
The ongoing financial crisis brought on by the pandemic has also affected BuzzFeed, which cut pay to employees and furloughed dozens last summer ― eventually laying off around 6% of its workforce ― in response to the economic downturn.
While BuzzFeed News staff moved to unionize in order to help protect their jobs in early 2019, the union is still in the process of negotiating its first contract with management.