Vivek Ramaswamy urges culture shift at BuzzFeed after building stake

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Former US Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has called for BuzzFeed to axe staff, focus on video and hire new voices such as former Fox News host Tucker Carlson after raising his stake in the media company to 8.3 per cent.

In a letter to its board of directors on Tuesday, Ramaswamy criticised BuzzFeed for decisions that he claimed had contributed to the public’s “distrust of the media”, including publishing in 2017 a dossier by the former British spy Christopher Steele.

The website delved into Donald Trump’s Russian ties without first verifying the information, some of which was disproved. Special counsel Robert Mueller later opened an investigation into the former president’s conduct and found no evidence that his campaign had conspired with Moscow to influence the 2016 election.

“Distinguish yourself from competitors by openly admitting your past journalistic failures and redefine BuzzFeed’s brand around the pursuit of truth,” wrote Ramaswamy, urging the company to hire editorial talent “across the political and cultural spectrum”.

The biotech entrepreneur and anti-ESG campaigner said he saw a worsening threat to the traffic that search engines and social media sites have driven to BuzzFeed as consumers turn to artificial intelligence tools such as Google’s AI-generated answers to search queries.

He pushed for BuzzFeed to respond by hiring controversial, high-profile figures in audio and video, such as Carlson and talk show host Bill Maher, and to add three unidentified directors to join the board by July 15.

“No talent should be off-limits to platform, hire, or acqui-hire,” wrote Ramaswamy. “While your competitors focus on racial and gender diversity in the boardroom, you can become the first media company to expressly select for a diversity of viewpoints in your ranks.”

BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti wrote in response that Ramaswamy had “some fundamental misunderstandings about the drivers of our business, the values of our audience, and the mission of the company”, but would schedule a time to meet.

“I’m very sceptical it makes business sense to turn BuzzFeed into a creator platform for inflammatory political pundits,” he wrote.

Buzzfeed’s stock has fallen from $40 a share in 2021 to below $3. It shut down its news division in 2023, after social media companies such as Facebook got out of the news business and choked referral traffic.

The disclosure last week that Ramaswamy had built a multimillion-dollar stake in BuzzFeed drove a brief rise in its shares. At Friday’s closing price of $2.80 per share, however, it had a market capitalisation of just over $100mn.


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