HuffPost UK staff face redundancy as national news operation closes down

Exclusive: Owner BuzzFeed’s move leaves more than half of editorial staff at risk

BuzzFeed has told the UK staff of its recently acquired HuffPost website that it is shutting down its national news operation, leaving more than half its editorial staff at risk of redundancy and confirming the end of a digital journalism era.

After the BuzzFeed chief executive, Jonah Peretti, told staff that 47 HuffPost employees were being made redundant immediately in the US, 16 of 29 full-time journalists at its London-based office received emails this week informing them that they also face losing their jobs.

Of the existing news staff, only the site’s separate politics team will be retained, while the video desk is also to be cut. It is understood that the editor-in-chief, Jess Brammar, is among those at risk.

Every mother on the UK editorial staff has been told they face losing their job, including one person on maternity leave. Four jobs are available to the 16, 11 of whom are women.

One member of staff said: “I don’t think they have deliberately targeted women and mothers – but it is striking that their decisions have played out this way and they don’t seem to have even noticed.”

Joeli Brearley, the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, a charity that campaigns to stop discrimination against pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, said HuffPost would be “losing valuable life experience, and this will have an impact on content”.

BuzzFeed would not confirm numbers, saying it was constrained by the conditions of a consultation period, but acknowledged HuffPost would be going forward “with a smaller team, while exploring new commercial partnerships in the market”.

Some staff have been angered by the way the move has been handled, with complaints that communication – via an email from a California-based HR representative which came during a staff meeting about what Peretti’s announcement would mean in the UK – had been “thoughtless at best, callous at worst”.

Another staffer said: “We have had to add all [the numbers at risk] up ourselves because they haven’t told anyone anything. The people staying have no idea when their editor is leaving or who they now report to.”

The password for the international meeting hosted by Peretti setting out the wider cost-cutting moves was “spr!ngisH3r3”, or “spring is here”. BuzzFeed subsequently said the company regretted the password’s tone.

BuzzFeed’s acquisition of HuffPost last year came after Peretti announced drastic cuts to BuzzFeed’s own highly respected US news division in 2019. It closed its UK and Australia news operations a year later, effectively signalling the end of its challenge to the traditional news media in both countries. The two brands had been at the forefront of the group of digital native startups competing with legacy news outlets and had once seemed likely to become permanent players.

Those precedents led many at HuffPost UK to fear the worst when the deal was announced. “But I actually thought they would recognise that our news stuff is our strongest brand here,” one at-risk staffer said. “Our news coverage gets viewed most.”

While HuffPost – founded as the Huffington Post by Arianna Huffington in 2005 and swiftly becoming an early phenomenon of a social media-dominated news era – had a relatively small team in the UK, it has frequently punched above its weight, with particular strengths in coverage outside of London and on issues facing minority ethnic communities.

This week, it published a data-driven story revealing that Met police press releases highlight a disproportionate number of violent crimes committed by black people. Brammar was the first editor of a major news site to publicly criticise the Society of Editors’ controversial claim after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s interview with Oprah Winfrey that there was no racism in the British media.

Other notable stories include a piece revealing how racists in Leicester were capitalising on the city’s lockdown to spread misinformation about the city’s minority ethnic communities and coverage of SPAC Nation, a London church that faced allegations of fraud and physical abuse of young people.

BuzzFeed said in a statement: “BuzzFeed has announced that it’s begun a restructuring of HuffPost in order to break even this year and fast-track its path to profitability. As part of these changes, we have begun a consultation process in the UK to propose focusing on local coverage of politics, entertainment and Life (HuffPost’s lifestyle vertical) with a smaller team, while exploring new commercial partnerships in the market.”

Contributor

Archie Bland

The GuardianTramp

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