BuzzFeed Canada is cutting its political reporting staff a little more than a year after its official launch in a move that suggests there are cracks in the social news company's plan to expand its reporting capabilities outside the United States.
Multiple sources say the decision to close its Ottawa office has already been made, and that its two staff – politics editor Paul McLeod and political reporter Emma Loop – are being offered a choice to be re-assigned to jobs in Washington, D.C., or let go with severance. Only three weeks ago, BuzzFeed toasted its first anniversary in Canada at a party held in Toronto's trendy Queen Street West neighbourhood.
The popular website best known for its socially shareable lists ("19 Hilarious Tweets About Last Night's Episode Of 'The Bachelorette'"), quizzes ("Can You Pick The Fast-Food French Fries With The Most Calories?") and other online diversions had painted its push into foreign coverage of hard news as a natural evolution for the company. But the decision to cut both of BuzzFeed Canada's political writers, who were among the company's first hires in Canada in anticipation of last year's federal election campaign, hints at a rethinking of that expansion plan.
Mr. McLeod declined to comment, but BuzzFeed confirmed he will move to Washington to cover Capitol Hill for BuzzFeed. Ms. Loop and and BuzzFeed Canada editor Craig Silverman could not be reached for comment, but Ms. Loop is considering her options.
"With the 2015 Canadian federal election behind us, we are wrapping up our Canadian political coverage," said Scott Lamb, BuzzFeed's vice-president of international editorial, in a memo to staff provided to The Globe and Mail by BuzzFeed.
There are no cuts planned to the 10 staff who work out of the company's Canadian headquarters in Toronto. The office houses news staff and social-media editors as well as a small team who produce so-called buzz items – the less journalistic content that's tailored to be widely shared.
In recent months, there have been other signs that the financial pressures afflicting traditional media may be beginning to catch up to newer digital-news outlets as well. In April, the Financial Times reported that BuzzFeed had badly missed its 2015 revenue projection of $250-million (U.S.), bringing in only $170-million, and that it had halved its 2016 target. BuzzFeed disputed the figures, but did not provide its own numbers.
Also in April, news website Mashable announced it was moving away from covering world news and politics to focus more on other areas such as web culture, social media, entertainment and lifestyle coverage. Then, in May, Vice Media cut 15 staff in the United States and three members of its team in Britain, though its Canadian office was spared any job losses.
Amid that pressure, BuzzFeed Canada will be called upon to produce more coverage of events outside of Canada as part of the company's global integration strategy, working particularly closely with staff in New York, with new reporting lines for senior editors.
"We've decided to more closely align the efforts of our Toronto-based writers with our editorial team in New York, updating their reporting lines and opening up their editorial scope so they're free to cover the topics that appeal to them from anywhere in the world, in addition to Canadian-centric content," Mr. Lamb said in the memo.
BuzzFeed.com has 18 offices around the world and claims more than 200 million monthly unique visitors, three-quarters of whom come to the site from social platforms. When NBCUniversal, a division of Comcast Corp., invested $200-million in the site last year, BuzzFeed was valued at $1.5-billion.
"The BuzzFeed Canada brand isn't going away," Mr. Lamb wrote.