Business

Layoffs underway at HuffPost a day after parent company Verizon announced cuts

Posted January 24, 2019 12:50 p.m. EST

— Some employees at HuffPost learned Thursday morning that their days in the newsroom are numbered, as layoffs hit the popular news website.

A spokesperson for HuffPost said the site is "investing its talents and resources to areas that have high audience engagement, differentiation and are poised for growth at a time when our mission means more than ever."

"We are deeply committed to quality journalism that reflects what matters most to our diverse audiences across the globe," the spokesperson said.

It's a significant setback for the progressive news website, a pioneer of the digital media landscape, which has become far less hospitable than it was in 2005, when HuffPost launched as The Huffington Post.

Now, economic headwinds are hitting newsrooms across the industry, affecting once-bullish digital shops and longstanding newspapers alike.

Wednesday served as a harbinger of what's in store for the industry, with HuffPost's parent company Verizon announcing a 7% cut to staff in its media division, a portfolio that also includes Yahoo and AOL. Within hours of that news breaking, BuzzFeed confirmed that it will lay off 15% of its staff. And journalists at Gannett, the nation's largest newspaper chain, shared grim stories throughout the day on Wednesday as the company shed dozens of staffers throughout the country.

At HuffPost, the layoffs were set in motion Thursday morning; the site itself reported that employees "began receiving calendar invitations to meet with human resources" that day. The cuts come a month after Verizon announced it was taking a $4.6 billion writedown on Oath, a move that left it with a value of just $200 million. Oath changed its name to Verizon Media this month.

"Our goal is to create the best experiences for our consumers and the best platforms for our customers," a Verizon Media spokesperson said in a statement. "Today marks a strategic step toward better execution of our plans for growth and innovation into the future."

The layoffs will affect about 800 employees, though it is unclear how the cuts will be distributed across Verizon Media.

On Thursday, some HuffPost employees who had been let go began sharing their stories on Twitter.

Among those affected was Jason Cherkis, a reporter who was nominated for a Pulitzer in 2016. Bryan Maygers, the head of opinion at HuffPost, said he was told the site's "opinion section is no more."

"I and the rest of the team have been let go," Maygers said.

Nick Wing, a reporter at HuffPost, said he, too, was among those laid off. Ditto for Laura Bassett, a culture and politics reporter.

"It's been a wonderful 8 years at HuffPost, and I'll miss my newsroom family more than anything," Bassett tweeted.

HuffPost employees had previously formed a union with Writers Guild of America, East, ratifying their first union contract in 2017. Fifteen members of HuffPost's union were laid off on Thursday, according to a spokesman for WGAE. The layoffs also affected those in management who were not in the union.

"Today is a tough day at HuffPost. A number of good people lost their jobs as part of company-wide layoffs, despite Verizon taking in nearly $4 billion in government funded tax breaks last year and a promise that workers will 'share in the company's success,'" WGAE said in a statement.

Verizon bought AOL, then the parent company of HuffPost, in 2015 for $4.4 billion, part of an aggressive media-buying strategy under former Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. In 2016, Verizon bought Yahoo. McAdam stepped down as CEO last year.

HuffPost was co-founded by Arianna Huffington, who stepped down as editor-in-chief in 2016. She was replaced by former New York Times editor Lydia Polgreen, who did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement published Thursday on HuffPost, Polgreen called it a "tough day" for the site and said the staff was "losing some talented and beloved colleagues."

"We are deeply committed to quality journalism that reflects what matters most to our diverse audiences across the globe," she said. "HuffPost is aligning its talents and investments to areas that have high audience engagement, differentiation and are poised for growth at a time when our mission means more than ever."