With the wind out of its sails, a battered BuzzFeed News continues

A few weeks ago, BuzzFeed News launched a major expose on a group home operator for the disabled owned by private equity titan KKR. In a nearly 6,000-word article, a team of four BuzzFeed reporters revealed that residents were “condemned to live in squalor, without basic health care or nearly abandoned.” While KKR said it “strongly disagrees[d]” with the article, BuzzFeed had the receipts to prove it, including state inspection reports and disturbing video footage, both of which were published with the story. It was the kind of assignment that gets the blood pumping in a newsroom, a fearless public interest investigation that uncovers rampant embezzlement and corporate greed. But BuzzFeed’s much-deserved victory lap was bittersweet. What Kurt Anderson observed on twitter“how ironic that this pivotal year-in-the-making story exposing the horrors of US financialization is one of the final achievements of the @BuzzFeedNews investigative unit, which was disbanded in the wake of the IPO of @BuzzFeed a few months ago.”

Investigations was one of four newsroom teams selected for takeovers this spring (also science, politics and inequality) as part of BuzzFeed’s latest downsizing exercise. Now, combined with HuffPost and Complex Networks, which it bought last year, and which has struggled against a share price slide since going public in December, Jonah PerettiThe 16-year-old digital publishing phenom can’t seem to (or want to) subsidize such a sprawling news division, never mind that BuzzFeed News has always been a cache of prestige for the biggest brand, putting it on the map with bombshells like dossier Steele and a series about the mass detention of Muslims in China that won a Pulitzer Prize. The news division has a new mandate to become profitable in its own right, requiring further contraction in the wake of two previous sacrifices.

As for the influence BuzzFeed News has on the collective consciousness of the media, a fair amount of wind had already been taken out of the site’s sails with the departure of the founding editor-in-chief. Ben Smith in early 2020, as part of a seemingly methodical poaching of BuzzFeed talent by The New York Times. The siege went ahead under the leadership of Mark Schoofs, a veteran heavyweight investigative journalist. But with news of the latest cuts came similar news that Schoofs would be stepping down, along with two of his top lieutenants, the deputy editor-in-chief. tom namako and executive research editor Ariel Kaminer. (Schoofs got a memorable sendoff on April 20 when three staff members called into his farewell dinner in Los Angeles and FaceTimed each other to get BuzzFeed-themed tattoos.) first earnings call, “BuzzFeed News will need to scale back” and “prioritize the areas of coverage our audience connects with the most.” (For its first-quarter earnings, announced Monday, the company touted a 26% year-over-year revenue increase to $91.6 million, though it also posted a net loss of $44.6 million.)

This isn’t a BuzzFeed News requiem, at least not yet. After the buyouts, which are starting to roll in (about 30 people are eligible in total), the number of newsroom employees will drop to between 70 and 80. That’s down from 250 at its peak, but still a respectable number. The desks that remain untouched include breaking news, culture, celebrity, health, and technology, which was the team behind the Pulitzer-winning Uyghur series. The political team will be greatly diminished but at least not non-existent. “We will cover the midterms,” a source assured me. And the search for Schoofs’ successor is entering the final stretch, spearheaded by Peretti and the interim editor-in-chief. Samantha Henig. They have narrowed the field to several candidates, including at least one from abroad, who have now submitted memos outlining their vision for the site. Still, no matter how you look at it, it’s hard not to see BuzzFeed News as a deflated balloon, a lesser force than the towering gladiator it became during the digital insurgency of the 2010s, when BuzzFeed and its ilk had media. inherited as the Times sweat bullets.

The twilight of BuzzFeed News Investigations exposes that reality. Created by Schoofs in 2013, the 16-person unit was known to punch its weight, producing enterprise features that held their own against those of larger, more resourceful publications. BuzzFeed News was a 2021 Pulitzer finalist for its work on the 108-newsroom collaboration known as FinCEN Files, which senators credited with driving major anti-money laundering reform. The site also entered the Pulitzer Prize contention for a 2017 seven-part thriller about the UK’s Kremlin assassination program, which was adapted into a book and documentary series. premiere this month on Sky TV in the UK The site’s 2017 investigation into a corrupt Chicago police detective won a Polk Award and helped free or exonerate a dozen people. “Our mandate was to make the biggest changes possible, do the most damage possible, and never back down,” said Kaminer, who joined BuzzFeed early on. Times in 2015 and has served as research editor since 2019. “And we got every conceivable support to do it, every stop along the way, straight to Jonah.” (Nothing stops BuzzFeed News from doing research in the future, there just won’t be the same rate of fire or power.)

Kaminer’s team is hitting it hard: five big investigations in the last five weeks, from their exposure into KKR-owned group homes to investigations into a UK anti-terrorist program, problematic child abuse records, and the acquittal and mistrial of the men. accused of conspiring to kidnap the governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer. They published their swan song Wednesday morning: a 5,000-word play involving allegedly fraudulent companies operating on the Visa and Mastercard networks. From what I hear, the general mood right now is gloomy, but Kaminer took a more optimistic view. “At first it was heartbreaking to think that it would all come to an end, that the team would disperse,” he said. “But five big investigations in five weeks is such a triumphant exit that we all feel strangely exuberant.”

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