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Inside Buzzfeed as furloughs begin, losses continue, and layoffs loom

BuzzFeed UK Office

  • BuzzFeed News has started to furlough employees while negotiating with its editorial union over possible layoffs.
  • The furloughs impact four staffers in the US and about 15 in the UK and Australia.
  • The company hasn't ruled out layoffs in the newsroom, which like media broadly has been hard hit as advertisers slash spending in response to the coronavirus.
  • The newsroom is on track to lose $10 million this year and is seeking reduce that figure to $6 million in 2021.
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BuzzFeed News is starting furloughs while the newsroom braces for potential layoffs, according to sources inside the company.

The news came from new editor in chief Mark Schoofs in a video meeting with remote staff May 13. Schoofs, who started up BuzzFeed's investigations unit before leaving to teach at USC Annenberg, was just brought back to succeed BuzzFeed News' founding editor Ben Smith, who left earlier in the year for The New York Times.

Schoofs told staff that four newsroom employees in the US — two senior editors, a deputy editor, and an office manager — would be furloughed for three months. 

Another roughly 15 BuzzFeed News reporters in the UK and Australia who were covering local news in those markets and will be furloughed.

These are the first furloughs impacting the newsroom since the pandemic struck, slashing revenue for BuzzFeed along with many other advertising-dependent media companies. 

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti said earlier this spring that revenue was down double digits year over year and that it might face 2020 losses of up to $20 million. The company has taken steps to avoid layoffs by cutting staffers' pay and saying it would furlough some staffers. BuzzFeed has already furloughed 68 employees elsewhere in the company

Still, news insiders expect the furloughed people won't be brought back.

Newsroom layoffs also haven't been ruled out. Schoofs plans to announce what he called a newsroom restructuring on Friday, which could involve layoffs. Negotiations are underway this week with the newsroom's BuzzFeed News Union on potential layoffs, said a source with direct knowledge.

BuzzFeed News has a goal of cutting costs by 20% this year, and in the May 13 meeting, Schoofs also told staff that he was open to considering work sharing to help the newsroom meet that goal. BuzzFeed is considering applying for a New York State workshare program that would involve people working fewer hours for a corresponding decrease in pay.

The newsroom went its first deep cuts a year ago when 20% of the staff was cut along with a companywide reduction in workforce. The union said going through that again in a pandemic would be "devastating."

Employees took to Slack to express sadness about the cuts. One employee said it was like being in limbo since the first furloughs were announced last week and expressed hope that the company would negotiate in good faith with the newsroom and hear out alternatives.

Another said the furloughs news "sucks" but appreciated that there was a union to negotiate job changes at a time when journalism jobs are scarce.

How deep and where newsroom cuts are made will be watched closely as BuzzFeed News is an award-winning but costly and money-losing enterprise. The parent company has been trying to get the newsroom to break even as it's been cutting its losses; it expects to narrow its losses to $6 million in 2021, down from $10 million this year and $18 million in 2019, according to the source.

But that offer could be a tough sell to reporters used to working sometimes long or irregular hours in pursuit of big or time-sensitive stories.

The cuts are the latest blow to the newsroom, which just said goodbye to Virginia Hughes, BuzzFeed News' well-liked deputy editor in chief and former science editor who left last week for The New York Times.

SEE ALSO: CEOs from ViacomCBS, Vice, Complex, and more explain how the pandemic will fundamentally change the media business

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