Benjamin Mullin and Katie Robertson at NYT:
In a move that brings to a close a pioneering era of online journalism, BuzzFeed is shutting down its namesake news division. After beginning as a quirky digital upstart and rising to a Pulitzer Prize-winning operation, it ultimately fell prey to the punishing economics of digital publishing that has laid low many of its peers.
It’s a sobering end for a publication once seen as a serious challenger to legacy media outlets that had been slow to adapt to the internet. It was also the final chapter of a venture capital-fueled digital period that left an indelible mark on how journalism is produced and consumed.
When BuzzFeed News was founded in 2011, in the run-up to the next year’s presidential election, it explored stories both slight and serious through listicles and click-bait-style headlines designed to go viral on social media. That mirrored the practice of its parent company, an internet laboratory of sorts that Jonah Peretti started in 2006.
The news operation soon drew attention for its ambitious, sharp reporting, however, and went on to open overseas bureaus and invest in investigative journalism. A number of alumni work for the more established news organizations it sought to disrupt, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, and those newsrooms have embraced many of the practices that BuzzFeed pioneered in search of readers online.
But for all its accomplishments, the news division failed to make money, unable to square the reliance on digital advertising and the whims of social media traffic with the considerable costs of employing journalists around the world.
Ben Smith, the founding editor of BuzzFeed News, who left in 2020 to be a media columnist at The Times, said in an interview that he was “really sad” about the closing.
“I’m proud of the work that BuzzFeed News did, but I think this moment is part of the end of a whole era of media,” said Mr. Smith, who now runs the media outlet Semafor. “It’s the end of the marriage between social media and news.”