Issue 178,  published September 25, 2018

BuzzFeed Lays Off In-House Audio Team

In case you missed it, this was the big podcast news that drove casual discussions about the industry over the past week: last Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that BuzzFeed has laid off its in-house audio production team, perhaps most famous for people of color-driven shows like Another Round, See Something Say Something, and Thirst Aid Kit, in favor of reallocating its resources towards the company’s video operations. As a result, the majority of its podcast portfolio will cease production. In an all-hands meeting on Thursday (covered by BuzzFeed’s Steven Perlberg on Twitter), the company’s leadership noted that the decision to continue the in-house audio team was driven by difficulty finding a big audience — not a decision that was driven by a financial calculation.

Don’t miss the second part of the development, however: the company will adopt a production model similar to that of its television projects — “that is, treating shows as individual projects, with teams brought on as needed,” as Shani Hilton, VP of news and programming at BuzzFeed News, wrote in an internal memo cited by the Journal article. I imagine that arrangement will be deployed only if the company chooses to pursue another foray into audio at some point in the future, which isn’t a given. A deep-dive into BuzzFeed by The Information, published yesterday, tells the story of a company that’s shifting away from a production culture of broad experimentation towards a more resource-conscious one that’s stricter in the number of bets it’s planning to take.

In other words, what happened to the BuzzFeed’s now-dissolved audio team is a little more nuanced than what’s been driving the takes: the story of the PodSquad, I think, is mostly about a team that made great contributions to podcast culture, but was ultimately rendered a casualty of strategy.