With BuzzFeed’s latest round of mass layoffs over, CEO Jonah Peretti hosted an all-hands meeting on Wednesday to face questions about his handling of the past week, as well as what the future would bring for a company that only a few short years ago was valued at $1.7 billion dollars.
Starting this past Friday, BuzzFeed staffers across multiple teams and offices around the world were notified that their positions with the company had been eliminated. The layoffs at the company stretched across the weekend and into this week. When the dust finally settled, the company had cut 15 percent of its workforce (reportedly around 200 people) resulting in entire news desks, and many longtime figureheads at the company gone. Even by the already depressing standards of digital media layoffs, BuzzFeed’s slow-moving massacre was a horrific culling that left many staffers questioning a company who once went by the motto “no haters.”
A recording of the Wednesday’s all-hands meeting was provided to Splinter by a source who requested anonymity to share the audio. The meeting covered a range of topics, including the company’s bungled layoff schedule and its initial decision not to pay many laid-off employees for their accrued paid time-off. (After a public outcry from BuzzFeed workers both past and present, Peretti agreed to give his former employees what they’d rightfully earned.)
“Many New York-based companies do not pay out PTO [outside of California, where it is legally mandated],” Peretti said, adding that “our employee handbook in New York makes it clear that we don’t pay out PTO.”
Calling it a “fairly standard” practice, Peretti added: “Whether it’s right or wrong is a very legitimate debate. Whether we should have paid out is a very legitimate debate. Our people who were upset about it have legitimate arguments.”
He added that some people who had “piled on” on social media were saying things that weren’t true, but that ultimately, the company decided to relent on the issue “to help the company move forward, to get past something that was really holding us back.”
Attempting to explain why the company had staggered its layoffs over several days—including an entire weekend—Peretti claimed that the “original plan was to avoid having people wait through the weekend.” He said that he’d intended to announce the layoffs on January 29, but that news of the mass layoffs was leaked early “as we brought more managers into the process to try to prepare them for having the conversation.”
Peretti acknowledged that the overall layoff process had been “terrible,” and said that BuzzFeed would be doing a “post-mortem” to avoid a similar one in the future.
“There were a lot of breakdowns in that process,” Peretti said. “I’m sorry for those breakdowns.”
Peretti also addressed the leaks which aired BuzzFeed staff’s dissatisfaction and disfunction during the layoffs. On Friday, for instance, Splinter published a series of leaked screenshots from an internal “Ask Jonah Anything” Slack room, which featured multiple distraught employees reacting to the firings.
“If we can rebuild trust, and if people can understand that leaking actually isn’t just about hurting someone maybe that they’re upset at [at] the company, or upset at the company, but hurts their peers and makes it harder for everyone to get information, and makes it harder for the company to be transparent, that we will drastically reduce leaks,” he said.
In an afterthought, Peretti admitted that “I also could imagine that little speech that I just shared being leaked,” adding that “the ironic leak is one of the great genres of leaks.”
Absent from the meeting was any talk—by both Peretti and the BuzzFeed staff—of unions or any effort to unionize the company, despite the demonstratively positive outcome from the collective action of BuzzFeed employees demanding their fired colleagues be paid out for the PTO they had earned. Peretti has been vocally opposed to any BuzzFeed unionization effort in the past, claiming that site editor-in-chief Ben Smith, and VP of news and programming Shani Hilton could more effectively advocate for staff to management than any union. Ironically, he repeatedly praised the site’s News Staff Council, a group of staffers tasked with advocating for workers.
“It has been a great model to have people who are able to work together and figure out what are the things that are important to employees to talk to management about,” Peretti said during Wednesday’s meeting.
I have reached out to BuzzFeed for comment on today’s meeting, and to ask whether Peretti has changed his mind about unions, especially given his comments about the Staff Council, and will update this story if he responds.
During the meeting with BuzzFeed staff, Peretti attempted to paint a picture of a company still very much in control of its future. He said that the company’s “commitment to diversity and inclusion” is still there, and praised the “tremendous people here who are so good to each other and supported each other” throughout the past week.
But, he cautioned, “we need to really focus on getting to profitability and building a sustainable business so that we never have to do this ever again.”
Update, 4:17 p.m. ET: A BuzzFeed spokesperson replied in an email: “We have no comment on an off the record conversation between BuzzFeed employees and their CEO.”
The spokesperson added:
(You do realize that it’s up to the employees whether to unionize right? Jonah’s not supposed to be mulling over it either way.)
Update: 4:51 p.m. ET: This post has been updated to include comment from BuzzFeed and to provide additional context on the timeline of the layoffs.