Haasch: This week’s devastating layoffs spell concern for those in digital media

Amidst major cuts at BuzzFeed and Verizon Media, support for the media is imperative.

Palmer Haasch

The past week in digital media has been devastating, and it’s not over yet. BuzzFeed is in the midst of a 15 percent staff layoff. After a round of layoffs last Friday, BuzzFeed’s national security desks no longer exist and several other BuzzFeed teams were disbanded. Verizon Media Group, which owns the Huffington Post, AOL and Yahoo, announced a 7 percent layoff last Wednesday. The Huffington Post lost 20 employees on Thursday, and its entire opinions and health sections were dismantled. 

These layoffs follow other recent cuts in digital news, the Washington Post reports. Mic laid off its editorial staff in November. Vox Media cut approximately 50 employees in early 2018. Refinery29 cut about 10 percent of its staff in October. Early this year, Grindr cut its LGBTQ news site, Into. A digital advertising market dominated by Google and Facebook only makes things harder for digital companies.

During the first round of BuzzFeed layoffs last Friday, my Twitter feed was testament to both the volatile nature of digital news and the empathy of many others within the industry. I read tweet after tweet from incredible journalists announcing they had been let go or were waiting to learn if they would still have a job come Monday. There was an outpouring of support that followed — other journalists offered job openings at their organizations and supporters donated over $8,000 to a “BuzzFeed News Beer Fund” in order to buy laid off employees a drink.

However, NBC News reports that many now-unemployed journalists were also subject to coordinated harassment by 4chan trolls who sent them images invoking “Day of the Rope,” a far-right meme referencing a desire to execute journalists. President Donald Trump didn’t miss an opportunity to capitalize on the situation, tweeting: “Fake news and bad journalism have caused a big downturn. … The people want the Truth!”

This particular round of layoffs has felt particularly gutting. I’m an early-career journalist hoping to start working as a culture reporter immediately after I graduate in May. I already have my fair share of anxiety about finding a job in digital media compounded with run-of-the-mill imposter syndrome and insecurity. However, I’ve also been lucky to benefit from incredible mentors and friends who both reassure me and help me grow as a writer.

I wasn’t initially certain how to process Friday’s layoffs other than with a glass of nervous — and legal, I’m 21 years old — wine in solidarity. There’s a certain degree of dread (cuts will inevitably continue), a good deal of heartache for those who were laid off and an unsettling anxiety about the future. 

I’m not just worried for myself. I’m worried for my friends, colleagues and everyone else in the industry. I’m apprehensive about the future of sites like BuzzFeed, HuffPost, Into and Mic, who all did or do excellent, critical reporting. Violent anti-media sentiment and the targeted harassment that follows terrify me. 

My tendency toward anxiety and overthinking — and the looming possibility of further cuts and closures — means I won’t stop being terrified for quite a while. Now, what matters most is that we support digital news in any way we can. Subscribe to publications that matter to you. Turn off your ad blocker while visiting news sites. Support those in digital media in any way you can — and maybe buy them a beer while you’re at it.