Just months after it was acquired by Buzzfeed in a fire sale, the Huffington Post - the once-pioneering Internet media property - has elicited an outpouring of criticism from the blue-check crowd after abruptly firing nearly 50 reporters, roughly one-third of the site's staff.
News of the layoffs first emerged on Twitter, as dozens of newly-fired journos tweeted about their misfortune, but was soon picked up by Defector, the cooperatively-owned media property started by former staff writers from Deadspin.
According to Defector, BuzzFeed founder Jonah Peretti announced Tuesday during an all-hands meeting that 47 HuffPo staffers in the US, including eight managers, would be losing their jobs in order to "drive long-term sustainability." Rival journos slamed Peretti, accusing him of traumatizing the laid-off journalists by forcing them to repeatedly refresh their inbox to see if they had received one of the dreaded pink slips. Anybody who didn't receive a notice by 1300ET was said to be "safe".
As if this wasn't undignified enough, Peretti reportedly set the password for the mass-layoff meeting to "spr!ngisH3r3," an innocuous message that contrasted sharply with the situation as hand. One member of the Buzzfeed union described the firings as a "bloodbath".
"This is a bloodbath,” a HuffPost staffer and union member told Defector. “It’s worse than the worst-case scenario for what any of us thought we would see when we got this announcement a couple hours ago. And the fucked-up way that they announced this notwithstanding, this is a just bloodbath for an award-winning international newsroom full of absolutely stellar journalists who didn’t deserve this." "The initial reaction is I can’t believe what little chance we were given to show what we can do to help this company," the staffer said.
Some of the reporters and their allies recounted the firing in terms that one might reasonably describe as "melodramatic."
While trying to explain the circumstances surrounding the told staffers that the newly combined company's losses had exceeded $20MM last year, and that the company was on track to repeat that dismal performance without some kind of intervention.
Peretti, who laid off nearly 70 percent of BuzzFeed’s furloughed staff last summer in order to keep losses under $20 million, said during today’s meeting that the company’s losses exceeded $20 million.
"The loss of last year exceeded $20 million and would be similar this year without intervention," Peretti said. "And BuzzFeed is a profitable company, but we’re not that profitable, and we don’t have the resources to support another two years of losses."
Another blue-check reporter published a complete accounting of all the reporters who were laid off, along with the beats they covered.
A thread of incomparable reporters laid off from HuffPost today who you, an esteemed media organization, should scoop up immediately:— Jenna Amatulli (@ohheyjenna) March 9, 2021
+ @rklein90, education reporter— Jenna Amatulli (@ohheyjenna) March 9, 2021
+ @aedwardslevy, polling editor/reporter/pun expert
+ @gumgumerson, entertainment reporter
+ @quasimado, reporter on violence against women
+ @CarolKuruvilla, religion reporter
+ @EmilyRPeck, business, economics and gender inequality reporter
+ @RottenInDenmark, new economy reporter— Jenna Amatulli (@ohheyjenna) March 9, 2021
+ @tarantallegra, film reporter
+ @emmaladyrose, culture reporter
+ @RealGirlProject, personals/lifestyle reporter
+ @JeffYoung, health care reporter
+ @lukeobrien, extremism/misinformation reporter
+ @nickrobinsearly, world news reporter
Our HuffPost Canada comrades were also cut today. Hire them. https://t.co/V1z1v2Pyxm— Jenna Amatulli (@ohheyjenna) March 9, 2021
While these tweets are obviously well-intentioned, another twitter personality pointed out that sad reality that there simply aren't any media jobs right now - at least, not for reporters who specialize in covering "culture", "lifestyle", "entertainment", "violence against women" and "misinformation", which were just a handful of the beats that were eliminated at HuffPo.
i know everyone means well when they tweet “hire these incredible people” but there are no jobs— Brandy Jensen (@BrandyLJensen) March 9, 2021
Others attacked Peretti and Buzzfeed-HuffPo for failing to be more sensitive to the plight of the laid-off reporters.
There's no good way to do mass layoffs but it shouldn't be that hard to not do it the bad way https://t.co/puikJ8kMbV— Tom Gara (@tomgara) March 9, 2021
While some couldn't help but find humor in it all.
What do you call Huffington Post laying off 1/3rd of their journalists?— Will Chamberlain (@willchamberlain) March 9, 2021
A good start
But in all honesty, these reporters should have been able to read the writing on the wall. Although it was once a pioneering media organization, the Huffington Post's best days are long behind it: the website's traffic has shriveled in recent years to a mere fraction of what it once was, as round after round of devastating cuts thinned its staff.
Perhaps now it will get another chance at life by mimicking Buzzfeed's strategy of having its most popular pieces written by high school students working for free.