Buzzfeed’s recent decision to lay off 15% of its staff (around 200 employees) shows the precarious nature of working in digital media and journalism. The company was tired of not making money – that’s right, even huge media names like Buzzfeed aren’t profiting off their clickbait headlines – so they slashed their outgoings by surprise-firing staff. Some staff were informed they’d been let go whilst they were on remote assignments or holidays, which adds a particularly sour note to the story. To not even have the decency to look their staff in the eye when firing them, shows exactly what media corporations’ value: profit over people.
Buzzfeed cut their entire national news desk, including most of their LGBT+ news reporters and entertainment reporters, as well as half of their UK editorial team. These huge cuts have especially impacted ‘soft news’ – pop culture, celebrity news and entertainment – which was surprising to me. Buzzfeed’s speciality seemed to be picking up on pop culture news and sending it viral. Remember ‘The Dress’? The viral photo in 2015 that sent the internet insane trying to decide if it was black and blue or white and gold. It sparked over 10 million tweets, with 4.4 million of those in the first 24 hours. The staffer, Cates Holderness, who shared the photo on Buzzfeed and sparked the viral discussion is one of the people who has been fired. Even valued members of staff, who have brought huge traffic to the website, have been ungraciously let go. This example shows how nobody at Buzzfeed has job security, even those creators with their own online celebrity status.
The company’s reluctance to pay out holiday leave for all employees was totally unsurprising to me; they’re clearly trying to cut costs wherever they can, and the reality of their former employees’ finances doesn’t factor into their decisions. If angry former employees hadn’t come together and petitioned for their pay, Buzzfeed would have never given it to them out of any sense of morality. It’s time we realise these corporations, which thrive on reputations of being an online playground, are not as light-hearted as they seem. It paints a worrying picture for journalists and digital media staff. Independent media outlets can’t afford to hire all these laid-off staff, although it has been heartening to see many smaller websites offering roles for former Buzzfeed staff. The reality of being a journalist is risky and off-putting to people who can’t afford to take risks with their finances, with the ever-growing chance of your job being lost at a moment’s notice. Buzzfeed have shown their true colours, and I can only hope that more talented staff aren’t let go in Buzzfeed’s desire for profit.
On the 22nd January 2019, Ben Smith, the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed laid off 43 of the 250 journalists who worked there. The cut was the start of a planned 15% reduction of the overall workforce, which continued into last week and affected roughly 200 employees of the world renowned news outlet. These major cuts were done to lower costs and maintain growth as the company aims to hit profitability this year. BuzzFeed was not the only media corporation to get rid of hundreds of employees. About 800 people are losing their jobs in the media division of Verizon, the telephone company that owns Yahoo, HuffPost and many other corporations. In addition to laying off employees, BuzzFeed was initially refusing to pay out any holiday leave that the sacked employees had remaining.
This decision by BuzzFeed and other media corporations to cut workforces to maintain growth and profitability is set to have major consequences. These decisions not only emphasise a great injustice to the employees, but offers an insight into the future of journalism as becoming a harder industry to get into and the role of the media in producing news for governments as they turn to government funding.
In the past, journalism was an industry which mostly operated independently of the government and was more of a private industry which was motivated by profit. However in recent years due to the rise of the Internet and the use of smartphones, there have already been massive changes, as print consumption has been reduced and more people use smartphones and e-readers as a way to access the news. As a result news organisations have had to monetize their digital wings and there has been a rise in citizen journalism through blogging and YouTube, and online news sources such as BuzzFeed.
So what do these lay-offs mean for the future of journalism and the role of the media? It means unemployment and difficulty finding employment for journalists and the media becoming more focused on making a profit rather than producing accurate and meaningful news stories.