BuzzFeed’s Latest Viral Craze: Ex-Staffers Bashing the Company on YouTube

Why I Left BuzzFeed - Safiya
Safiya Nygaard

BuzzFeed has drilled its young employees in the dark arts of crafting viral content. And many of them have been using those skills in spades — after they’ve quit the company.

A rash of “Why I Left BuzzFeed” YouTube videos by ex-employees explaining why they quit has swept across YouTube over the past several months. The recurring themes: The creators say they wanted more creative control and ownership of their work; they chafed a BuzzFeed’s policies prohibiting outside projects; and some simply feel burned out from the pressure of churning out a high volume of hits.

Several of the confessional videos from the twentysomething ex-BuzzFeeders have garnered millions of views, reflecting an interest in (or schadenfreude about) the inner workings of the internet media company’s content factory.

Of course, for media companies, talent comings-and-goings are certainly nothing new. What’s different about BuzzFeed is that it grooms its video producers to make identity-based content, so their instincts are to document their career change — in a public forum. They’re also more likely than, say, former “Saturday Night Live” cast members to attempt to leverage the fan base they’ve amassed at BuzzFeed for their own digital content (as popular BuzzFeed personality Matt Bellassai decided to do a year ago).

And, ironically, they’re making “Why I Left BuzzFeed” videos because BuzzFeed has trained them to focus on creating stuff that can go viral.

In the latest entry in the “Why I Left BuzzFeed” genre, former social-media strategist Candace Lowry explained the reasons for her departure in a YouTube video posted Tuesday. “I don’t want my identity to solely be BuzzFeed,” she said. “I want to be be able to create this own path, and to be able to collaborate with anyone, everywhere and to have creative freedom.” Lowry worked at BuzzFeed for two and a half years before joining Popsugar a year ago — the first time she’d ever quit a job.

“The overarching reason why I left BuzzFeed is to have independence,” Safiya Nygaard (pictured above), a former video producer at the company, said in a YouTube video last month with more than 8.6 million views.

She quit in January 2017 after less than two years, saying that one of the main things that bothered her was BuzzFeed’s fiat that staffers were not allowed to interact with viewers in YouTube’s comments section. Nygaard also complained that she felt like producers lacked clear direction from BuzzFeed management, and that she was excluded from the decision-making process about a show she had co-created, “Ladylike.”

“In general, I think my goals and the company’s goals just didn’t align anymore,” said Nygaard, who added that she has no hard feelings toward BuzzFeed.

For Chris Reinacher, who said he made more than four hours of video during his stint at BuzzFeed, the primary problem was the mind-numbing requirement to be a jack-of-all-trades — writing, shooting, acting in and producing the short-form videos. Mainly, “I started thinking, if I wasn’t multitasking all the time, maybe I’d be able to make some better content,” Reinacher said in his “Why I Left BuzzFeed” video last week.

“To BuzzFeed, in a lot of cases quantity trumps quality,” ex-employee Kenny Moffitt said in an August 2016 video. He left because “I wanted to have more control over my videos, I wanted to focus on my own channel… and I have been so much happier.” Working 8-9 hours daily at BuzzFeed didn’t leave time to work on other projects, he noted.

Meanwhile, concerns over BuzzFeed’s ownership of their work were what prompted Allison Raskin and Gaby Dunn, the comedy duo behind YouTube channel Just Between Us, to leave BuzzFeed in 2015. The women explained their thought process in a video last November 2016 (which has more than 4 million views) on Hank and John Green’s Vlogbrothers channel.

The fact that BuzzFeed owns all the intellectual property its creators produce “began to scare me,” Dunn said. “Do I give them my best ideas? Later in life, I may want to use those ideas for something, and I won’t be able to.”

Asked to comment on the trend of ex-employees airing their grievances, a BuzzFeed rep told Variety, “We’re happy to have played a role in launching these people’s careers, and we wish them the best.”

What’s behind the spurt of BuzzFeed employees sharing details of their exits? For one thing, it’s proven to be a reliable traffic generator, especially for a fledgling YouTuber striking out on his or her own. “Excited for my new video, ‘Why I Left BuzzFeed,'” popular YouTuber Phil DiFranco tweeted on Monday. “I’ve never worked there, but it seems like the easiest way to get 2 million views.”

The “Why I Left BuzzFeed” meme has even inspired a rash of parody videos — aimed at riding the viral tide — including several choleric BuzzFeed-bashing videos from a British YouTuber who goes by Chubbs.

The friction between BuzzFeed and its video employees has come to a head in the past year: The company has fired employees for working on non-BuzzFeed projects. Last June, writer-producer-actor Jenny Lorenzo and Brittany Ashley (who worked on BuzzFeed’s popular series “You Do You” and wrote the script for the first season) were let go for allegedly violating their exclusive contracts with BuzzFeed after they appeared in a web series produced by America Ferrara. Sources familiar with BuzzFeed say it’s re-evaluating the terms of how it works with creators in such situations in the future.

“It was a big deal — of course it was a big deal” to get fired from BuzzFeed, said Lorenzo, who now works with Mitu, in a video last fall.

While the Cuban-American actor-producer once considered working at the company a “dream job” because she could get involved in all areas of a video production, “now, it’s like, there are just so many companies that have recently been sprouting out left and right allowing you to do the same, and Mitu is one of them.”

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  1. shaay says:

    Nobody was bashing buzzfeed the title is misleading

  2. Ra Williams says:

    They should have memes (for me) about why I avoid Buzzfeed! This article was enough for me, thanks but I don’t need to see anything about that site even ex employees who made Buzzfeed, Buzzfeed. Got it, Brother?

  3. Charlie says:

    The new generation of self absorbed attention craving wankers really think anyone cares why they left – let alone why they exist – Oh the horror of what they must have endured – please tell all – your anger, frustration and experience is so significant in the bigger to the world that you must document it for us. Why not just go about their life or even better turn off the media and do something for someone other than themselves. Something you don’t go on line and brag about. You know like do it for the sake of doing it – not the attention you crave. Can you imagine the self centered egos it takes to think anyone cares. I assume the Harvey Weinstein and Saban are about to meet the next generation – of their own kind.

  4. Mike says:

    Buzzfeed is Gawker Jr. I hope it dies the same death. Talk about fake news.

  5. TexBill says:

    Does anyone watch Buzzardfeed other than CNN?

  6. azarkhan says:

    Buzzfeed: propaganda for pig-ressives.

  7. And when they wake up only to find that, not only is their former BuzzFeed boss NOT willing to give them a reference, every company they interview with mysteriously forgets their phone number, then and only then they realize they should have said nothing. Stupid move. Thanks for the object lesson.

  8. nidhitheunicorn says:

    Saf got a million in about 2 weeks, go Saf!

  9. Ken says:

    Buzzfeed is an anachronism. A heavy handed propaganda tool for a specific agenda. It feels very obvious in its slant and old fashioned. Sad, it could have been solid information for a confused generation. But it was too in love with its own idea. Goodbye Buzzfeed.

  10. silver fox says:

    buzzfeed…..the emblem of the dying left and it’s past tense narrative….

  11. Brad says:

    All of you people would be bashing these ex-employees if Buzzfeed was a right-wing site, and you know it.

  12. SeanInNYC says:

    This seems like a consequence of hiring entitled 20-somethings for positions that called for far more experience: media, work and life. Going on to slam your emp!oyer on social media, in a video, etc., should make a person toxic to any potential employers. However, I think the pool of left-wing/ social justice/ antifas that most media companies limit themselves to is getting smaller and smaller. As younger folks get a bit older, it is natural to become more reasonable, so they become less likely to go along with the current psychosis that has gripped media the past few years. So the calibre of people left for these organizations to hire is a clear cause of the media’s overall failure / general lack of the success

    • TexBill says:

      LIke the old saying: If you’re young and not a liberal, you don’t have a heart. If you’re older and are not conservative, you don’t have a brain.

  13. Dr. Benway says:

    If “Buzzfeed” is/was your dream job.. You have very low expectations in life.

  14. alex says:

    I think the title of the article may need to be edited.. bashing buzzfeed? Not from the ex staffer videos that I’ve see.

  15. Bryan Knott says:

    I watched Safiyas video and it was a legitimate reason why she quit. She was really classy as always, and didn’t bash the company at alllll. As clearly stated above, Buzzfeed was not communicating bigger plans with her about a show she co-created. She didn’t feel comfortable having her name on something while she didn’t even know what the plans for this show were. That sounds like an acceptable reason to part ways to me. Her tone in the video is short sweet and simple. She made it seem like her incident was isolated to her and didn’t apply to everyone there.

  16. Greggore says:

    So the Virus’s are turning on the host. Fine with me.

  17. Nick W says:

    >Left Buzzfeed because they wanted ownership of their work

    These stupid Millennials still struggling to understand how the real world works. It’s called employee ‘work product’, you don’t own shit of what you make under employment. Do car factory workers claim ownership of cars because they made them? Do advertising execs claim intellectual property ownership of ads because they made them? Of course not, this is a long established legal principle, but to people who believe history only started with the birth of the internet, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

    No wonder everyone hates millennials. Young entitled morons.

    • Heather Louise says:

      I agree 100%! Couldn’t have said it better – minus Safiyas as she had a different tone and reasoning altogether.

  18. Alvis says:

    I must be the only person in America who has never wittingly visited Buzzfeed. Naturally this article, and why any of this matters, is completely lost on me.

    • aubreyfarmer says:

      So if a person creates something unique they are barred from using their own unique creation in the future because they were working for someone else at the time?

    • Honestly you didn’t miss much. It’s a one sided website that targets and attacks certain groups of people. The website consists of kids (likely mostly under 22 without enough college education) to take videos and then they call it “news”. I know, right? But the millennials believed in it until the election. After the Trump win, they had to face that their “news” wasn’t real. Hadn’t been the entire time. Wishing and closing your eyes tight doesn’t make it so. Tough world, huh?

  19. Nate O says:

    Oh my, 8-9 hours a day? You poor, overworked millenials! I can’t imagine the suffering that must accompany a 40-45 hour work week. If you’re interested, ask me about 60-75 hour work weeks.

    • mchionchio says:

      Working 60-75 hours a week is not something to be proud of. It’s not a badge of honor. It’s the sign of someone with zero work/life balance. Being a writer/editor/producer (which anyone employeed by Buzzfeed is) and working 8-9 hours a day means there is very little time to take another editing or writing gig. Thinking anyone who works less than 75-hours a week is not as great as you are is just that: thinking it. And ragging on millenials for being lazy means you’re either Gen-X or Baby Boomer. If you still have to work 60-75 hours a week to make a living: stop being proud and bragging about that fact. Instead, think of where you went wrong in life and why you haven’t found a job where you can pull a 40-hour week to pay the bills.

      • Made-to-post says:

        Well said. Some family and friends working construction brag how much they make in a year and then complain about the long hours and bad work environment. Your choice, your skill set, working 70 hours to make what I do in 40 is not something to brag about.

  20. R Recherei says:

    “They’re also more likely than, say, former “Saturday Night Live” cast members to attempt to leverage the fan base they’ve amassed” – LOL The whole reason to fight to get on SNL is the career making potential it offers.

  21. bdc says:

    Nothing new here. Same questions, different day. Do the results of my creative genius (patents/copyrights/ideas) belong to me or to the guy who is paying me for my creative genius. Why can’t I use my company paid phone/office/business contacts to develop my own projects/business on the side (I promise not to use the company’s office supplies, telephone, paid time, computer, secretary, or work on my personal stuff on office time and in the office facility).

  22. Kiernan1230 says:

    Buzzfeed is a prime example of how societal standards are in decline. The content is low-brow, dense and boorish. They cater to the lowest common denominator. No shocker they peaked and are now failing.

  23. hinfovoter says:

    top ten reason to ignore buzzfeed are all the same: boring

  24. Actions have consequences. You think your new employer will hire you knowing if you aren thappy, you will bask the company? NONO

  25. fuckyou says:

    thats an old vid on a girl who worked with buzzfeed on a segment called ladylike this is nothing but click bait its not blowing up on youtube its an old video im sick and tired of these made up storys just to get you to click on this so they can make money if anyone does read this i highly suggest you go somewhere else for your entertainment

  26. Jason b says:

    Wow. One of these guys was working 8-9 hours per day! And that other veteran produced a whopping 4hrs of video content while he worked there. Sounds like a sweat shop to me. Time for you social justice warriors to unite and shut Buzzfeed down!!!

  27. Asdfkj Koiasdk says:

    Buzzfeed is garbage.

  28. A person with an OPINION says:

    How disgusting you all are. Have you watched the video? She clearly said ‘I’m not trying to bash the company’. Safiya was just trying to explain while you just want to start Fake News!

  29. Who ever wrote ‘Why I left Buzzfeed’ seems to have too much editorial freedom implying friction between those that left. It seems no friction just a need by those that left to have more freedom to do what they want to do. Erroring on ‘Fake News’ me thinks!

  30. V says:

    All the videos I’ve seen weren’t bashing buzzfeed. The most common reasons people left was because they wanted to tackle making their own youtube content and to run their own channels. Top that off a lot of them say they enjoyed working for buzzfeed and were glad they worked there so yeah. Bashing is a far fetch from what most of them have done.

  31. Vanessa Bush says:

    I wouldn’t really call it bashing. That to me implies they are angry and negative. I think most of the ones I’ve seen have done a good job of explaining why they left without really dragging Buzzfeed’s name. In fact I’m pretty sure Saf (the girl whose picture you’re using) said at the 1:16 mark in that video “I’m not here to trash Buzzfeed” She left because what she wanted to do didn’t align with what they wanted her to do. She even says at 5:12 that she realized they were right, that they hired her for the role of video producer and not to oversee every decision in her project Ladylike. And if that seems strange, refrence 5:50 when she says that when you agree to work at Buzzfeed, you agree that they own the material you produce and she knew that going in.

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