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April 20, 2023
What A Day
Why Buzzfeed News Left Us

In This Episode

The Pentagon is moving American troops to Sudan to prepare for a possible evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in the region. This comes amid a dayslong series of clashes between two warring military factions that has led to hundreds of deaths and injuries.

 

Buzzfeed is shutting down its entire news division after elevating reporting that rivaled many more established, legacy media outlets for over a decade. The company will also cut another 120 people across its teams, laying off about 15% of its workforce.

 

And in headlines: A fifth suspect was arrested and charged with murder in connection to the fatal 16th birthday party shooting in Alabama, House Republicans passed a bill that would bar trans women and girls from competing in female sports, and Elon Musk’s Twitter officially discontinued the legacy verification program.

 

Show Notes:

 

 

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TRANSCRIPT

 

Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, April 21st. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi and this is What A Day where we have a feeling that Frank Ocean fans will still get to cry through the Sunday Coachella headliner set just for different reasons this time. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, maybe you’ll be crying because you spent a whole lot of money to go out there when you know you shouldn’t have. [laughter] [music break] On today’s show, House Republicans have passed a bill that would bar trans women and girls from competing in female sports. Plus, the time has come to bid Twitter’s blue checkmarks farewell. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: But first, an update on the deteriorating conditions in Sudan. Yesterday, the Pentagon announced that it would be moving more American troops to the region to prepare for a possible evacuation of the U.S. embassy in Sudan. This comes as the days long series of clashes between the two warring factions in Sudan continues to intensify. On Thursday, war planes bombarded the center of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital. And according to the World Health Organization, the death toll has risen to 330, with 3200 others injured, which is almost certainly an undercount. We talked about this story a little bit on the show earlier this week as the fighting started. But we wanted to take some time to go deeper into what’s going on in Sudan right now. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. So can you start by giving us some more background about the factions and how their clashes escalated? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Definitely. So there are two rival factions of the military in Sudan. They are led by the country’s two top generals. There’s General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan, who leads the Sudanese army. And then there’s Lieutenant General Muhammed Hamadan, who leads the powerful paramilitary group known as the Rapid Support Forces, or RSF. Prior to this, the RSF fought on behalf of the Sudanese army, but obviously not anymore. These generals used to work together. Back in 2019, they overthrew the brutal former dictator of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. And after the coup, Sudan was led by a combination of civilians and these military leaders. They were all on track to transition to a fully civilian run government over the course of the following few years, it was actually like a very hopeful, exciting story. But that did not happen. Tensions between the two leaders and these groups over who would control Sudan’s military and key parts of its economy were rising throughout this whole time. In 2021, General al-Burhan dissolved that power sharing council between civilians and the military, saying instead that civilian rule would be restored in 2023. Basically kind of kicking the can down the road, but taking control. That was supposed to happen on Tuesday. There was a deadline agreed on with the U.N., the U.S., a bunch of other countries, but they completely missed it. This heavy fighting broke out last weekend over control of the country. And since then, there have been two cease fire agreements, but neither one has stuck. Neither one has been able to stop this violence. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: A whole lot going on– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –over there and with the situation. Could you talk a little bit about how this has impacted the country’s residents so far? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: At this time, most of the fighting has been happening in the country’s capital of Khartoum. According to reporting, there have been unpredictable bombardments, airstrikes, sniper fire, really just a sense of chaos in the city. People are hunkered down at home. Hospitals and other critical infrastructure have been hit by these bombardments, have closed down. People are running very low on food, water, other critical supplies. So this is very quickly becoming a humanitarian crisis, has all the makings. And according to U.N. aid chief Martin Griffiths, humanitarian relief workers and facilities have continued to be targeted throughout the violence. The U.N. has received reports of attacks and sexual violence against aid workers. So really just a dire, dire situation. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, and you mentioned the failed ceasefires earlier. Is there any sign of this ending in the near future? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, we all hope, but as of now, there are no concrete signs pointing to that. Sudan’s army has pretty much ruled out any more negotiating with the RSF. They say that they’ll only accept their surrender. U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has asked the groups to commit to a three day cease fire over this weekend in observance of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr. But that has not been accepted yet either. As for the US’s potential embassy evacuation, obviously troops are coming in not to Sudan, but nearby in Djibouti. Senior officials have noted that it will be no easy feat to evacuate embassy staff, let alone the 19,000 American citizens who are believed to be in Sudan at this time. The international airport in Khartoum has been heavily shelled. The airspace in Sudan is currently closed. So we will continue to keep you updated as all of this unfolds. But really, that’s all we know as of now. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Got you. Thanks so much for that, Priyanka. In other news, the lay off Grim Reaper has made its way to BuzzFeed News. And in fact, the entire news operation is shutting down. To be clear, we’re talking specifically about BuzzFeed’s news division, not the part of the company that popularized quizzes and listicles like 25 ways to tell you’re a kid of the nineties. Or 15 poop horror stories that will make you feel better about yourself. [laughter] We all took that one, I know we did. It’s totally fine. The shutdown of the news division will affect about 60 of BuzzFeed’s employees. Some of them will be offered jobs at other parts of the company, but the company will also cut another 120 people across its business content, tech, and administrative teams. So a total of about 180 folks have lost or are losing their jobs at BuzzFeed. That’s about 15% of its workforce. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, in addition to being such a large number of people, like they were doing such critical work, I would always feel personally offended when people would equate BuzzFeed News with these listicles because they turned out really important breaking hard hitting news. I relied on it so much when I was writing the What A Day newsletter and it’s just a great source and it’s really sad to see it go by the wayside and all these talented, talented journalists lose their job. But can you explain, you know, why this is such a big deal and kind of put this into some context for us? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. And as you mentioned, right, there was a moment in time in which BuzzFeed was synonymous with these quizzes, these listicles–

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –some of my favorite quizzes. You know, which living single character are you? Which Cheetah Girl are you? In case you were wondering, I’m Khadijah James and Galleria Garibaldi, obviously, in case you were wondering. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Obviously. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: But this was the early 2000s, right? And the company became known as an Internet laboratory of sorts that was intentionally trying to make pieces that would go viral online. That was their whole thing. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And their news division was founded in 2011 ahead of a presidential election. And they used that same focus on virality to elevate, as you mentioned, some really good reporting. Reporting that was rivaling right many of the more established legacy media outlets. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So much so that BuzzFeed News was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2017 and they won the Pulitzer for international reporting in 2021 for stories that used satellite imagery to report on the Chinese government’s detention of Muslims. But they were also doing great work on kind of the culture and entertainment side of things, right? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: They published an investigation into R. Kelly’s foolishness, which eventually contributed to his conviction, and they were also the ones who exposed the toxic work culture at The Ellen DeGeneres show, which, you know, became a huge issue that we covered here on our show. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Right. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So, you know, they were doing important and necessary work across the board, right. Work that’s become recognized by the media establishment, where now, you know, a number of BuzzFeed alumni work for these more established outlets that BuzzFeed once sought to disrupt. Right from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And Bloomberg News. But apparently BuzzFeed News wasn’t making any money. And to quote the great songwriter, “if it don’t make money, it don’t make sense.” Okay. According to The New York Times, BuzzFeed News just couldn’t square their reliance on digital advertising and the whims of social media traffic with the costs of employing journalists around the world. As BuzzFeed’s CEO and co-founder Jonah Peretti said in a memo to staff yesterday, quote, “I made the decision to overinvest in BuzzFeed News because I love their work and mission so much. This made me slow to accept that the big platforms wouldn’t provide the distribution or financial support required to support premium free journalism purpose built for social media. Those big platforms. By the way, he’s talking about the social media platforms not really contributing and turning into coins for–

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –BuzzFeed News. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. I mean, this has been in newsrooms for years that I’ve worked in, others obviously that I haven’t, in every single one this issue of how to get eyeballs on your content, how to make money, it’s a constant struggle. Has been will continue to be because news really is more of this good that people don’t want to pay for it. People really just want to know. But then it’s like, how do we fund this quality work? And then, you know, it’s a big mess. I feel like if I had the answers to it, I uh I would not be here right now. I’d be probably be probably minting money. But anyways, what happened yesterday really seems to be a part of a larger issue of a lack of job security in journalism and media. You know, tell us more about what’s going on. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely right. Layoffs have been hitting so many industries, as you know. We’ve covered many of them on the show, but especially in media and journalism, jobs are disappearing left and right. Newsrooms large and small, legacy and startup print and digital are laying people off all over the place, it seems or otherwise, placing, you know, absurd constraints on their reporters, if not shutting down altogether. Right. Big places as well as like the small places. Um. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: There’s a crisis of local journalism right now, in particular with a lot of like local newspapers just not being able to hold on. Just yesterday, actually, in addition to the BuzzFeed News, Insider which, you know, used to be known as Business Insider, even they announced that they’d be laying off 10% of their workforce. Both of those follow layoffs at count them with me, ABC News, NPR, good net, News Corp, Washington Post, Adweek, Vox, WNYC, NBC News and MSNBC. That’s literally ten places. And just a sampling, right? And they all happened this year in 2023. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. All places that people rely on to get their information about the world. And, and you know, you mentioned the local journalism, too. It’s not just confined to those smaller places that were really struggling. That’s a few years back. But now it’s the giants of the news industry. It’s a scary, scary time. Mm hmm. So what do we know about what will happen now over at BuzzFeed? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: As a reminder, they bought Huffington Post. Well, HuffPost now. But you know, back in my day, we called it Huffington Post. [laughing]

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Truly old enough to remember those days. [laughter]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So they bought HuffPost back in 2020. And unlike BuzzFeed News, apparently HuffPost is profitable. They apparently don’t have to rely on the social media virality. They’ve got a nice, sizable audience that comes to them, you know, regularly for their news. And so– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Fascinating. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: The company is going to focus all of their news efforts over there at HuffPost. They even said that they’d be creating some positions specifically for some of the BuzzFeed News folks impacted by the shutdown. As for stories originally published on BuzzFeedNews.com, they will still be available on the site in perpetuity, they say, but there won’t be any new reporting. Now, what many folks are saying, right, is that this kind of marks the end of a pioneering era of online journalism. And you know what? I kind of have to agree. I’ll just note right–

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –also that the outlet caused a lot of hell for many of the folks who work there. Black folks, especially. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: True. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Google it if you don’t know what I am talking about. Okay. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yup. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: But I do think it’s safe to say that BuzzFeed News definitely changed some things, right in this industry while it was here. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, and a lot of really talented people, really talented journalists lost their jobs. And it is a really sad day for media. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. It absolutely is. And that is the latest for now. [music break] Let’s get to some headlines. 

 

[sung] Headlines. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: First, we have an update on a story we’ve been following this week. At the time of our recording Thursday evening, five people have now been arrested and charged with murder in connection to the fatal shooting that happened at a 16th birthday party in Dadeville, Alabama. Of the five suspects, three are teenagers ages 16, 17 and 19, and the two others are 20 year old men. The teens will be tried as adults per Alabama law and all five face reckless murder charges. They are being held in Tallapoosa County jail with no bond. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: In the GOP’s latest attack on transgender athletes, House Republicans passed a bill yesterday that would bar trans women and girls from competing in female sports at public schools and universities. The vote was entirely along party lines, with Republicans championing the measure. Meanwhile, Democrats condemned it, arguing that it only added to the discrimination that trans people, particularly trans youth, already face on a day to day basis. The bill has zero chance of passing the Senate’s Democratic majority, and even if it were somehow to make it to President Biden’s desk, the White House has already said that he would veto the measure. That veto and that prevention of it even happening is what happens when you vote for sane people. And hopefully more people do that so we don’t even have to deal with it in the first place because that would be great. I know this is not fun to talk about. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely not. And you’re absolutely right. People need to vote in their best interest. And if you don’t want to vote in your best interest, vote in my best interest. Okay. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. Please.

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Thank you very much. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: That’s a winning message right there. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] Right? Julie Su, President Biden’s pick for labor secretary is facing an uncertain path to confirmation. During yesterday’s Senate hearing, Su, who has served as acting labor secretary since March, was met with criticism from Senate Republicans who largely oppose her confirmation. They grilled her for things like meeting with union leaders and supporting the Overturn California law, which would have reclassified some gig workers as employees rather than independent contractors. As for the Democratic majority, they argue that Su would be a strong worker advocate and enforce the minimum wage, the right to join unions and more. However, a handful of moderate Democrats have yet to voice support for Ms. Su’s nomination. That uncertainty, alongside Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein’s continued absence due to shingles, may jeopardize the certainty of her confirmation. If confirmed, Su, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, would be the Biden administration’s first Asian-American cabinet secretary. A vote is scheduled for next week. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Lawyers for actor Alec Baldwin said yesterday that New Mexico prosecutors plan to drop all charges against their client for the fatal shooting of Rust’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, back in 2021. The district attorney for Santa Fe County, where the shooting took place, charged Baldwin with two counts of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year. Her office alleged that the actor had a responsibility to make sure that the gun was safe to handle, particularly as an executive producer of the film. Baldwin’s lawyers issued a joint statement celebrating the news yesterday, saying, quote, “We encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident.” A spokesperson for the DA’s office declined to comment on the matter. But Hannah Gutierrez Reid, the film’s armorer who loaded the gun the day of the shooting, is still on the hook. She faces one charge of involuntary manslaughter in the case. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: As promised yesterday, thousands of arguably relevant people lost their coveted blue checkmarks. As Elon Musk’s Twitter officially discontinued the legacy verification program for accounts that refused to pony up the eight bucks a month for Twitter Blue, me included. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I’m going to need to stop you– 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: The move is– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –really quick because arguably relevant like we’re talking about us. [laughter] I’m sorry, we’re extremely relevant. I would just like to put that out there. But anyways, please continue. [laughing] 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Mr. Musk seems to disagree, but the move right is part of the embattled Twitter CEO’s effort to quote unquote democratize the platform, bringing all voices to an equal playing field. Unless you’re someone whose approval Elon Musk desperately seeks. The billionaire quietly singled out certain accounts who had been vocally critical of his new subscription plan to retain their checkmarks payment free. Despite publicly declaring weeks ago he would not subscribe. LeBron James’s account appeared to be a Twitter blue subscriber, as well as the accounts for Ice Cube and author Stephen King. King seemed especially eager to clear his name, tweeting yesterday, quote, “My Twitter account says I’ve subscribed to Twitter Blue. I haven’t. My Twitter account says I’ve given a phone number. I haven’t. Elon Musk responded to an article published by The Verge uncovering this inconsistency, tweeting, quote, “I’m paying for a few personally.” 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Eew. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Right. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Eew. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So disgusting. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: So cringe. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: [?] Elon, and spare us the embarrassment of looking like we paid to be on there. But as newly unverified survivors of the Blue Check purge Priyanka and I would like to take this moment to say a brief farewell to our blue checkmarks. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, I mean, I have so much to take issue with here before we even bid farewell to my beloved Blue check. Which I will miss forever. I derived a lot from that blue check. It really gave me an inherent sense that I was better than everybody else around me. And now I just have to feel that within. I have nothing externally proving that I don’t know. It’s not a good day over here. It’s a dark one. How are you feeling about that Tre’vell? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I didn’t even notice it was gone. I’m not even going to lie to you. Um. But I will miss I assume this ability will go away. If you had a verified checkmark, you could only look at your mentions. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Filter by the [?]. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. You could filter everything. I don’t know if that will go away. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Now I gotta deal with the riff raff. Sorry to the riff raff. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Sorry to the riff raff. And those are the headlines. It’s Friday, WAD squad. And for today’s Temp check, we’re talking about the ever messy and never ending drama of airplane etiquette. Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Anthony Bass managed to get himself more attention than is ever normally granted to a Canadian MLB player when he took to Twitter to complain about a United Airlines flight attendant. Accompanying a picture of his two young children seated on a commercial flight, Bass tweeted, quote, “The flight attendant at United just made my 22 week pregnant wife traveling with a five year old and a two year old get on her hands and knees to pick up the popcorn mess by my youngest daughter. Are you kidding me?” The tweet went viral as hot takes do and people had thoughts about this and why wouldn’t they? You know, this airplane etiquette quandary has everything, children behaving normally, a mild inconvenience, and a professional baseball player incapable of helping his pregnant wife clean up a little popcorn. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Truly. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: So Priyanka acknowledging we are two beautiful but childless people. What’s your take on– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: True. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –who’s responsible for the popcorn mess in the sky? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: If this happens, you should probably make an attempt to clean some of it. Like not just leave it all there. Like, if it’s a mess. Do your part to, like, get the popcorn into one area. And then when whenever the flight attendant inevitably comes over, like how I would handle this is saying I’m so sorry. Like, this is– 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yes. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –what happened with my kid. Like, obviously the flight attendant is going to probably end up cleaning most of it or whoever cleans the flight after, you know, the people leave is going to clean up most of it. But like just the apologetic factor of like, hey, I’m sorry, I’m not going to be able to fully do this. And like, my kid did it. The kid can’t take full responsibility for it. But I’m going to say sorry because I know that’s not helpful for you and that’s probably not what you want to deal with. I feel like a little sorry goes a long way. Like if you feel bad that it happened. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: What do you think Tre’vell? 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I’m right there with you. But you know what? I just got something to get off my chest. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Ooh. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I need– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oooh. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –for parents of young children. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Oooh. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: They be going through the world. Okay, thinking that just because they got a little toddler with them, right? That it absolves them of some sort of responsibility of looking after your kids. Okay. Matter of fact, if you pregnant woman or your husband, who apparently was there and made you pick up the popcorn. Okay.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah, the husband is the crazy part. Let’s not forget that in this story. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely, right? 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: He’s out there tweeting instead of fucking helping like– 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absurd. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: He’s fully a part of this. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Absolutely. But you have to take some responsibility for your kids. Teach your kids even at two and even at five to clean up after themselves. It’s not that hard. You don’t have to spic and span clean it. Right. I agree with you that, like, we could have picked up a few of the crumbs. You know, it doesn’t have to be completely clean. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: I feel like a little attempt goes a long way. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Absolutely. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Um. I also want to say that this is United Airlines and um they could have, what, like dragged you in the aisle like [laugh] just a reprimand is very mild for United Airlines. So just want to throw that out there. But anyways. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: [laughing] Oh do you remember oh my god. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Lest we forgot about that one. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, my Lord. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps and you know what they’re all about accountability. Stand up parents. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: [spits laughing] Right, yours is getting hot over there mine’s like–

 

Tre’vell Anderson: And take care of your kids.

 

Priyanka Aribindi: –I’m so sorry. [laughter]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review. Help your wife clean up some popcorn and tell your friends to listen. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading and not just about the Space X guy’s never ending series of flops like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 

 

[spoken together] And have a beautiful earth day. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Ugh, enjoy it. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. You know, go plant a tree or something. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Be grateful for the world. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. Go touch some grass. A few of y’all– 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Totally. 

 

Tre’vell Anderson: –need to touch some grass. 

 

Priyanka Aribindi: Yes. That’s what we’ll go with. Touch them grass. You don’t have to be grateful. It’s fine. [laughter] [music break]

 

Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lantz. Our show’s producer is Itxy Quintanilla, and Raven Yamamoto is our associate producer. Jocey Coffman is our head writer and our senior producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]

 

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