Media responsibility in a time of layoffs

Promoted from the diaries by streiff. Promotion does not imply endorsement.

Upon reading about significant layoffs in the media this week, with around 1,000 jobs being lost, I was trying to figure out a good opening paragraph for the story, when I came across this tweet from a now-laid off HuffPost staffer:


My first thought was that, if the story Miss Goldberg was pursuing was about furloughed federal workers who cannot afford tampons, perhaps what her editors had been assigning her was so trivial that it really didn’t matter. Being unable to afford food, something that everybody needs, every day, would be an important story, to be sure, as would getting utilities cut off in the dead of winter; those are things which most people would find important.

But tampons, a product that only some women need, for only a few days a month? Certainly important to them, but, in the larger scheme of things not something that is going to grab most people’s attention, and is more likely to engender jokes than anything else.

Layoffs underway at HuffPost a day after parent company Verizon announced cuts

By Tom Kludt, CNN Business | Updated 12:50 PM EST, Thursday, January 24, 2019

New York (CNN) — Some employees at HuffPost learned Thursday morning that their days in the newsroom are numbered, as layoffs hit the popular news website.

A spokesperson for HuffPost said the site is “investing its talents and resources to areas that have high audience engagement, differentiation and are poised for growth at a time when our mission means more than ever.”

“We are deeply committed to quality journalism that reflects what matters most to our diverse audiences across the globe,” the spokesperson said.

It’s a significant setback for the progressive news website, a pioneer of the digital media landscape, which has become far less hospitable than it was in 2005, when HuffPost launched as The Huffington Post.

Now, economic headwinds are hitting newsrooms across the industry, affecting once-bullish digital shops and longstanding newspapers alike.


There’s much more at the original, including BuzzKill BuzzFeed laying off 15% of its staff. BuzzFeed is the employer of Jason Leopold, about whom we wrote earlier, the investigative reporter who apparently fabricated sources in his story with Andrew Cormier that President Trump directed his attornet Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. Independent Counsel Robert Mueller’s office took the unusual step of stating that the story was false, and, when pressed, Mr Leopold could not produce his sources.

As we noted in our earlier report, Mr Leopold’s journalistic history is checkered, to say the least:

  • Mr Leopold was fired from The Los Angeles Times in 2000 for threatening violence against a female colleague who had asked him to turn down his music;
  • Mr Leopold had a story pulled from Salon, a very liberally oriented e-zine, in 2002, for plagiarism;
  • Mr Leopold reported on Truthout that Karl Rove had been indicted by a grand jury — not would be indicted, but had already been indicted — and that the story would be officially released in a few days; when no indictment was forthcoming, Truthout editor Marc Ash initially defended Mr Leopold’s story, but when the reporter could not produce the sources, Truthout withdrew it. Mr Rove was never indicted; and
  • In an unpublished memoir, Mr Leopold has admitted to an addiction to cocaine, a past suicide attempt and a past conviction for grand larceny.

I searched this morning, but if Mr Leopold was among those being let go by BuzzFeed the story had not been made public.


We have no idea how good, how talented or how diligent the approximately 1,000 media reporters, editors and staffers being laid off this week happened to be. My guess — and it is only a guess — is that most of them were simply trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability. But the idea that so many mostly decent people are losing their jobs, while BuzzFeed at least appears to be retaining Mr Leopold is appalling.

And he wasn’t even very productive: Robert Stacy McCain reported, on January 20th:

Well, if you’re really cynical — and I am — how about the possibility that Jason Leopold needed a big “exclusive” to justify his continued employment? Prior to his Jan. 17 article, it had been four weeks since his last article (“Russian Agents Sought Secret US Treasury Records On Clinton Backers During 2016 Campaign,” Dec. 20, 2018). Now, I don’t know how your workplace operates, but in most companies, somebody who goes four weeks without producing any actual work might have to deal with an angry boss demanding to know what the hell he’s been doing lately.

So, BuzzFeed is letting go approximately 220 people, but the investigative reporter who had produced only one story in a month, a story which turned out to be false, isn’t among them? A check of Mr Leopold’s Twitter feed at 11:10 AM EST today showed no notification that Mr Leopold was no longer employed by BuzzFeed, but continues to list his position as “Senior investigative reporter @BuzzFeedNews investigations team.”


That the media are laying off people is no surprise; this is being driven by economics, and has been going on for decades now, primarily driven by print media revenue and profitability losses, but is affecting digital media as well. That BuzzFeed might be continuing to employ an “investigative reporter” like Mr Leopold while others are getting pink slips is both appalling and indicative of the bias in the credentialed media.
Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.


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