Jonah Peretti Is the Problem
The BuzzFeed CEO is the worst sort of boss, and if we want a better media world, we have to destroy the one he helped create.
On Thursday, BuzzFeed News—an outlet which, less than a decade ago, was such an imposing presence in the media industry that insane stuff like this was published about it—was unceremoniously liquidated by BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti.
BuzzFeed and its whole deal could sometimes be very annoying, but the site also produced a lot of really good work and, for a time, it was one of the two or three centrifugal forces around which it felt like the entire industry was revolving. And now, as they used to say at some other very influential places, it’s dead. As someone who, like all the BuzzFeed staffers, has literally had his website nuked overnight, I really get what they’re going through right now. I’m not one for extensive personal sharing online, so I’ll just sum it up by saying: it sucks, a lot. I hope everyone lands on their feet in one way or another.
“Media people lose jobs” is sadly a pretty cut-and-paste affair by this point. The boss sends out a dumb memo filled with dumb buzzwords to try and mask the reality that whatever rich people are running the show decided they were bored with their toy and so all the workers could go drown in a lake. The workers do gallows humor and “hire them!” threads. Maybe someone starts a GoFundMe. Other media people (including, many times, me) do angry tweets about “this industry.” And then we all kind of move on. This industry (there I go) is awful, and at this point, if you haven’t been laid off, it just means you haven’t been laid off yet. These days, media death comes for us all.
So why am I writing about BuzzFeed? Two reasons: one, because, for a time, it wasn’t just any old site, it was The Site, and its journey into the grave is particularly mindboggling for journalists of my generation; and two, because of Jonah Peretti.
We have written before on this blog about the particularly noxious brand of smarminess that Peretti brings to his role of villainous boss, but he has now outdone himself. As I indicated before, I thought it was pretty hard to innovate on the concept of the asshole boss “we’re firing everyone sry :(” memo, but Peretti has always been forward-thinking. His memo made me want to break several things.
Let me quote the truly enraging part of the memo in full (emphasis mine—you can read the whole thing here):
I want to explain a little more about why we’ve come to these deeply painful decisions. We’ve faced more challenges than I can count in the past few years: a pandemic, a fading SPAC market that yielded less capital, a tech recession, a tough economy, a declining stock market, a decelerating digital advertising market and ongoing audience and platform shifts. Dealing with all of these obstacles at once is part of why we’ve needed to make the difficult decisions to eliminate more jobs and reduce spending.
But I also want to be clear: I could have managed these changes better as the CEO of this company and our leadership team could have performed better despite these circumstances. Our job is to adapt, change, improve, and perform despite the challenges in the world. We can and will do better.
In particular, the integration process of BuzzFeed and Complex, and the unification of our two business organizations, should have been executed faster and better. The macro environment is tough, but we had the potential to generate much more revenue than we delivered over the past 12 months.
Additionally, I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much. This made me slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium, free journalism purpose-built for social media.
More broadly, I regret that I didn’t hold the company to higher standards for profitability, to give us the buffer needed to manage through economic and industry downturns and avoid painful days like today. Our mission, our impact on culture, and our audience is what matters most, but we need a stronger business to protect and sustain this important work.
Please know that we exhausted many other cost saving measures to preserve as many jobs as possible. We are reducing budgets, open roles, travel and entertainment, and most other discretionary, non-revenue generating expenditures. Just as we reduced our footprint in NYC last year, we will be reducing our real estate in Los Angeles — from four buildings down to one, which saves millions in costs as well as mirrors our current hybrid state of work.
I’ve learned from these mistakes, and the team moving forward has learned from them as well. We know that the changes and improvements we are making today are necessary steps to building a better future.
Are you for fucking real Jonah??????????????????????????????????????????????????? ??????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!!!!!!
Yes, he is for real, because this is how things work in this world. The CEO writes an endless hand-wringing note about all the ways that he has been a dogshit idiot of a boss, and the result of the many errors that he has copped to is that….a bunch of other people lose their jobs. It’s so noble how Jonah—who conveniently has 65 percent of the voting power at BuzzFeed—has held himself to the highest standards of accountability and honesty by throwing lots of his employees, the vast majority of whom I would guess have way less financial security than him, out onto the street. “We can do better”—who is “we”? Not the people you just laid off!
It’s as if the executioner said “damn, this is not how I intended for this to go” every time before he let the guillotine do its thing. Thanks for saying that pal, and I’m glad you’ve “learned from these mistakes,” but I’m missing a head here, and I noticed right before the blade chopped me in two that you definitely still have one, so maybe you can shut the fuck up?
And I want to just circle back to this part: “I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much.” Uh, excuse me? “I’m so sorry you’re all losing your jobs, but in my defense, I probably never should have hired you to begin with. My bad! I did it because of love.” Please spare us this bullshit. This is not happening because Jonah had too much love in his heart. It’s happening because the investors who have been gunning for BuzzFeed News for years finally told him it was time to cut bait, and he said, “Yeah, you’re right.” It’s happening because, rather than viewing BuzzFeed News with anything like love, he viewed it as something whose value was ultimately tied up in the money it could make for him. BuzzFeed News is not a profit center, so BuzzFeed News has to go. That’s the market for ya.
Will Jonah make it through this? Yeah, probably, because CEOs are allowed to do whatever the hell they want. He even got at least one fawning reaction to his memo, from the Washington Post’s Sarah Ellison:
“Sad news, but I loved Jonah’s memo.” It must be nice to be a rich media man; you get praised even at your worst. (After the entire internet rose up against her, Ellison apologized.)
There are ultimately two things to be said about this saga. The first is: Jonah Peretti, you are trash, you are scum, go to hell. The second, more important thing, is this: if journalism is to survive in any meaningful way, it has to be wrested out of the claws of the Jonah Perettis of the world. We are long past the point where we can entrust the stewardship of this work to rich assholes whose loyalty to us extends as far as they feel their balance sheet will allow. The millionaires and billionaires who hold so many fates in their hands have had many, many years to show whether they’re worthy of that responsibility. It’s very clear that they aren’t. And yes, fuck bosses, long live unions, unionize your workplace, but that’s not enough. The underlying system is the problem. Jonah Peretti and the world he helped create—that is the problem. People have got to support better and more humane models and work to sustain truly independent media institutions—ones that see their workers as people instead of numbers.
It’s either that better world or Jonah’s world. Oh, and once again for good measure: Jonah Peretti, go fuck yourself. He truly is the worst.
PS: If you have any good story ideas kicking around, I accept pitches at my other gig over at The Nation! Get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
PPS: I keep promising crow blogs and not delivering. I swear on my life, there will be one next week.
This was great. Thank you.
CEO: I take full responsibility.
CEO: (fires everyone else)
Just another timely and depressing reminder of why I’m so thankful for places like Discourse Blog and Defector. Worker owned shops is the way.