I’m going to be honest here: I don’t fully understand what a digital media CEO “does.” I’ve worked for a handful of companies and in every single one, the CEO of the company was generally understood to be a moron.
This was a result of several factors: the CEO’s interests are usually at odds with that of his workers, so they think he’s a dumb asshole, and also a lot of the time the CEO is a dumb asshole, objectively, because most of them come from either the SF tech dude incubator or the venture capitalist sociopath factory, both of which produce dozens of dudes who are either overtly evil or intensely stupid and like to surround themselves with people who are the same. We’re truly not being run by the best here.
One thing I am certain that a digital media CEO does is fire people. That seems to be a core part of his (or very rarely her) responsibilities, and is linked to the other responsibility that I generally understand: making sure that the company continues to make money. Even with the caveat that media is a difficult industry right now, it’s strange to me that none of these guys are good at either part of that job. They can’t make money and when they fuck up, they can’t even fire us right.
However, there is one CEO who for years has utterly failed to both run a profitable company and treat his employees with even a modicum of human dignity when he is forced to throw their lives in the trash on a yearly basis. That man is Jonah Peretti, the CEO and founder of BuzzFeed. Today, Peretti laid off 47 people from HuffPost’s U.S. newsroom, which he had recently merged with BuzzFeed. (He also laid off additional staffers overseas, including a complete shutdown of HuffPost’s Canadian sites.) Here is how he broke the news to the affected staffers, per Defector.
According to a recording of the all-hands call obtained by Defector, Peretti told staffers that if they “don’t receive an email” by 1:00 p.m. EDT then their jobs are safe. The HuffPost staff received an email at 10:00 a.m. EDT announcing the meeting. According to an attendee, the password to join the meeting was “spr!ngisH3r3.”
A jaunty password for a happy meeting! Have you noticed? It’s 60 degrees outside in New York. The other good news is that you’ll have much more free time to enjoy that weather this spring, because you no longer have a job!
Peretti’s Canadian employees got even less courtesy; HuffPost Canada staffer Samantha Beattie said that they hadn’t been informed before the news broke that their entire site had been shut down effective immediately.
This would be an egregious example of mismanagement if it were the only time it had happened. But it is not. As it turns out, Peretti has done this over and over again, finding new ways to humiliate and torture his employees by creating the least efficient ways around an inherently traumatic process on an almost yearly basis.
Here’s what happened in 2019, when Jonah axed over 40 people from BuzzFeed News, per Splinter (RIP):
In a truly dystopian twist, BuzzFeed has decided to stagger the layoffs at the company across multiple days, starting today—some people will have to stew with the anxiety of maybe losing their jobs all weekend before finding out their fate.
Not great! Let’s check in with what happened in 2017, when Jonah axed 40 people from BuzzFeed’s UK offices. Also per Splinter, which was a good website, emphasis mine:
In late November, Peretti sent a long email to his entire staff, extolling the virtues of his company and shouting out Twitter morning show AM to DM before mentioning, a couple hundred words in, a round of layoffs—layoffs editor-in-chief Ben Smith later told the London office would account to more than 20 jobs. Later that day, the London office announced the Christmas party would also be canceled. And a week later, staff representatives surprised employees by correcting the number of layoffs to 40, across the business and editorial sides: Twenty-three of the UK office’s 76 journalists are currently up for elimination. The staff wisely held their own Christmas party and promptly headed to the pub.
Peretti sent an email with a single heart emoji in the subject line to the entire staff on the Saturday following the layoff announcement, thanking BuzzFeed for “being so caring and thoughtful these past few days, especially those of you who said goodbye to close colleagues and friends.” In the UK, the email was received in the dead of night by staff who had not even begun a process that is expected to last until midway through next month—a move one staffer described as “tone deaf” in the British press.
A single heart emoji! This guy is a fucking freak! “Sorry I just shook up your entire life <3 uwu!!! :3”
What could possess an adult man in charge of a company to do this? My theory is that many digital media CEOs have long benefitted from the antiquated notions that your “work is a family,” and while workers have quickly figured out that that sentiment is exploitative bullshit, CEOs with particularly soft baby-brains are still high on their own supply and/or incentivized to keep up this kind of cutesy, infantile stupidity as long as possible. This is the difference between them and the VC demons: at least the hedge fund killers don’t cry when they ruin your life, unlike Mic’s founder Chris Altcheck. If you’re going to be in a business that requires you to regularly cut throats, the least you can do is stop feeling sorry for yourself.
Jonah, it seems, still gets in his feelings throughout all this. Some may say that means he’s a human being, and should be treated with empathy as such. Sure. I can imagine that it’s hard to be absolutely dogshit at your job and have everyone hate you because you can’t figure out an easy way to fire them. But if that was truly causing Peretti any pain, you’d think that he’d find a different line of work. Clearly, this one isn’t for him.