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As BuzzFeed nears SPAC deal, news employees stage walkout

A man talks while inside an office building
BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti at the company’s Los Angeles office.
(Los Angeles Times)

BuzzFeed News employees on Thursday walked off the job as the company plans to trade on the stock market.

The union said 61 employees participated in the 24-hour walkout to push for better wages and working conditions at the digital media company. Several are based in Los Angeles.

The union said its employer is offering only a 1% annual guaranteed raise and a minimum salary floor of $50,000, which the guild believes is too low for people living in such cities as San Francisco, L.A. and New York.

The walkout is intended to “send a reminder that there’s no BuzzFeed News without us as we fight for our first collective bargaining agreement,” the union said on Twitter. The group, which is part of the News Guild of New York, said it has been bargaining for a contract for nearly two years.

The protest came on the same day as a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), 890 Fifth Avenue Partners Inc., is set to vote on a merger with BuzzFeed.

The deal announced earlier this year is expected to close in the fourth quarter, giving BuzzFeed a valuation of $1.5 billion. Some investors are pulling out their money in the SPAC, reducing BuzzFeed’s cash proceeds, the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

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BuzzFeed, a New York-based news and entertainment media company, said it employs 1,100 workers and will grow to 1,400 employees next week after it acquires Complex Networks, a youth network that features fashion, food, music and sports content, in a $300-million deal.

BuzzFeed News workers who participated in the walkout represent about 6% of the company’s total employees.

“There’s a bargaining session planned for next Tuesday where we hope the union will present a response on these issues,” BuzzFeed said in a statement. “Before then, the company is gearing up for an incredibly exciting milestone: becoming the first publicly traded digital media company, and acquiring Complex Networks. We couldn’t be more excited about everything that lies ahead for BuzzFeed and its employees.”

BuzzFeed says it will go public by merging with 890 Fifth Avenue Partners. The digital media company said it would be valued at $1.5 billion when the deal closes.

The company said it is offering a minimum 2.5% wage increase, including a 1% guaranteed paid increase and the remainder distributed across the unit based on merit.

But BuzzFeed News’ union said it is concerned that the company has pushed back on its request to not discipline workers over traffic and revenue metrics.

“If they want digital media to be modeled on BuzzFeed then they have to do better,” said Ema O'Connor, a BuzzFeed News political reporter, at a Twitter Spaces event Thursday hosted by the union. “The traffic discipline — all of these things are the horror show version of what people think that digital media is and so we need to convince them ... that is just not acceptable.”

BuzzFeed over the years has become a major player in the digital media space. It was initially created as a lab in New York’s Chinatown, where it experimented with the ways people engaged with content online.

Now its brands include BuzzFeed News, HuffPost and food network Tasty, among others. In June, BuzzFeed News won the Pulitzer Prize in international reporting.

BuzzFeed had $90.1 million in revenue in the third quarter, up 20% from a year ago, but posted a net loss of $3.58 million in the quarter, according to a regulatory filing.

“Utopia” is the name of the room that BuzzFeed Chief Executive Jonah Peretti uses as his L.A. office, but the last few months have been anything but that.


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