BuzzFeed has closed HuffPost Canada’s operations as part of a company-wide restructuring effort aimed at stemming financial losses.
On Tuesday, the digital media company announced it was laying off 47 workers in the U.S. and shuttering HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Quebec, marking a dramatic downsizing of operations following BuzzFeed’s purchase of HuffPost in November.
The cuts to its Canadian branch will affect 23 staff and four managers, and content will no longer be posted to HuffPost’s Canadian websites.
A message announcing the closures was pinned to HuffPost Canada’s website as of Tuesday afternoon.
“As of March 9, HuffPost Canada will no longer be publishing content,” the message read.
“Existing content will be maintained as an online archive.”
The cuts were a surprise for HuffPost’s Canadian employees, who had filed to form a union with CWA Canada just two weeks ago.
Samantha Beattie, a senior reporter at HuffPost Canada, said the union’s lawyers were informed of the layoffs at 11:55 a.m. on Monday, five minutes before staff were called to a meeting with BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti.
Staff were provided a Zoom link with the password “spring is here.”
“It was a total surprise,” Beattie told the Star.
Melanie Woods, an audio producer with HuffPost Canada, said that contract employees were not invited to the meeting and instead found out second-hand from full-time employees who’d attended.
The Canadian offices notified all their staff shortly after the company-wide meeting.
“Our managers here in Canada did not know ahead of time,” Woods said.
BuzzFeed bought HuffPost from its former parent company, Verizon Media, in November. The acquisition appeared to be a sign of confidence in HuffPost’s future as it paired with a like-minded media outlet of mid-aughts vintage.
“BuzzFeed is making this acquisition because we believe in the future of HuffPost and the potential it has to continue to define the media landscape for years to come,” said Peretti at the time.
Peretti was a co-founder of the Huffington Post before joining BuzzFeed in 2006.
But HuffPost faced deep financial losses during the pandemic, accelerating a decline that began years ago.
HuffPost’s losses totalled around $20 million in 2020, Peretti told employees on Tuesday.
“Though BuzzFeed is a profitable company, we don’t have the resources to support another two years of losses,” he said.
HuffPost, founded in 2005, expanded to Canada in 2011. On its first home page was a letter to readers from the site’s namesake, Arianna Huffington, announcing the launch of HuffPost’s international edition in Toronto.
The company passed between many hands after its rise, first being acquired by AOL in 2011 and then Verizon Communications in 2015 before it was sold to BuzzFeed in 2020.
In the months before the layoffs, Canadian staff had pushed to unionize their offices. Some employees told the Star that BuzzFeed appeared to be supportive of the staff’s union drive before Tuesday’s closures.
The company was “at least going through the motions with the certification process,” said one employee.
At the time of the union’s certification, on Feb. 23, staff had expressed hope for the future of organized labour in media.
“Our editorial mandate at HuffPost, shared by our new bosses at BuzzFeed, is focused on equity and fairness. We want these values to be reflected in the way our newsroom functions,” the union wrote in February.
The cuts to HuffPost Canada are the latest in what has already been a devastating year for Canadian media.
More than 200 workers were laid off from Bell Media in February. In July, Corus Entertainment announced sweeping cuts to the arts and lifestyle sections of Global News and AM radio. In May, Postmedia announced the permanent shutdown of 15 local papers, resulting in roughly 80 layoffs.
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