By: Kristen Tripodi
This week, BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced the company will shut down BuzzFeed News, an arm of BuzzFeed.com. The cost-cutting measure comes as a part of company-wide layoffs where Peretti says they plan to cut 15% of its workforce. As the announcement spread, Twitter users chimed in; some were surprised, while others condemned it as a junk publication. Even if BuzzFeed News wasn’t your cup of tea, reporters there were doing some incredible work; in June 2021 the publication won a Pulitzer Prize for its series exposing China’s detention of Muslims.
Peretti put it bluntly by saying he over invested in BuzzFeed News and this made him 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.” As an organization’s profits can’t keep up with expenditures, I think we will see other news sites shut down in the near future, especially when it comes to ‘free’ news.
The notion of ‘free journalism’ is something news organizations have struggled with for years. Beginning in 2010, some news organizations started implementing paywalls on their websites as a way to increase revenue after years of decline in paid print readership. BuzzFeed News never implemented a paywall, instead, it asked people to support its operation so the website can keep its news ‘free and available for all’. So you might ask, could a paywall have helped to prevent BuzzFeed News’ demise? It’s possible but not likely. It seems bad decision-making at the top of the food chain led to its shuttering (Peretti says so in his letter to staff), and the amount of revenue earned from a paywall likely wouldn’t have been enough to offset those mistakes.
Almost simultaneously, Insider Inc. (formally known as Business Insider) announced it’s laying off 10% of its employees in an effort to keep the company “healthy and competitive.” This begs the question, if large, national platforms such as Insider or BuzzFeed News can’t cut it in the digital world, is there any hope for the online future of local news organizations?
Local newsrooms (both print and TV) across the country have been forced to do more with less for years now. Things only continued to get worse over the decade I spent in the local TV news business. TV stations keep adding newscasts to be able to sell more advertisements and, in turn, make more money. But they don’t have enough money to hire more staff (according to C-suites) to do the additional work until they make more money. It’s a vicious cycle. One that forces journalists to do much more in a single day than ever before. I’ve seen so many talented journalists walk away from a career they love because they just couldn’t put in 12-hour days, day after day.
Arguably, nothing has shaken news organizations more than the rise of the internet. For decades now, news organizations have been adapting and changing their business models in hopes of surviving. And so far, some outlets have been able to improve and perform well, while others have folded. BuzzFeed News’ closure should serve as a cautionary tale for news organizations across the country; massive changes need to be made in order for tried and true journalism to continue.