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.
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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.”