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HuffPost axes local team, disables Australian website

Buzzfeed has swung the axe through HuffPost’s Australian newsroom, once again leaving the title without a local editorial team, a week after it made almost 30% of its US newsroom redundant and shuttered its Canadian operations, and a month after acquiring the media brand from Verizon.

The HuffPost Australia website was shut off yesterday, Mumbrella can reveal, with the homepage confirming that “as of March 17, HuffPost Australia will no longer be publishing content. Existing content will be maintained as an online archive; however, certain site features have been permanently disabled”. The message directs readers to the global website.

The message to visitors of HuffPost’s Australian website

Editor Alicia Vrajlal tweeted that, from tomorrow, HuffPost “won’t have a local team”, but a Buzzfeed spokesperson told Mumbrella the brand would remain in the market. The business would not confirm the number of local redundancies.

“BuzzFeed has announced that it’s begun a restructuring of HuffPost in order to break even this year and fast-track its path to profitability,” the spokesperson said.

“As part of these changes, we have begun a consultation process in Australia to propose focusing on global content with a smaller team.”

Vrajlal and senior editor Carly Williams were appointed in late 2019 to revive the local brand, which was previously relying on repurposed international content after the Fairfax and AOL joint venture collapsed, resulting in mass redundancies.  At the time of Williams and Vrajlal’s appointments, Josie Harvey had also joined from Storyful to focus on US trending news, and Nick Visser was covering US breaking news.

The joint venture was launched with Chris Janz – now Nine’s chief digital and publishing officer – at the helm and around 30 team members, and AOL was acquired by Verizon during the partnership. Less than a year ago, HuffPost Australia launched a new lifestyle platform, HuffPost LIFE.

Carly Williams (L) and Alicia Vrajlal (R)

Last week, Buzzfeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti – the former chief technology officer at HuffPost when it was called Huffington Post – told staff in a virtual meeting that 47 of its US employees would be laid off, and the Canadian outpost would cease to exist.

Its acquisition of HuffPost was announced last November, and finalised last month, despite Buzzfeed’s own struggles. In 2019, the media company made 43 redundancies in the US, and last year axed its local editorial team. Buzzfeed Australia still has a small presence, but no newsroom.

10 Daily, whimn.com.au, and Vice were also among the local digital newsrooms to close last year, but this week, Nine’s Pedestrian announced it would be reviving Vice and launching Refinery29 in Australia.

HuffPost’s US employees said they had to enter the password ‘spr!ngisH3r3’ to access last week’s meeting, led by Peretti. The boss told them at 10am local time that if they “don’t receive an email” by 1pm, they would still have a job.

HuffPost Canada’s site was shut down immediately, bearing a similar message to that of the Australian homepage. Senior reporter Samantha Beattie said the site was disabled before staff were told, while HuffPost UK staff are still at risk of redundancy.

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