CNET Hit by Mass Layoffs but Says Cuts Are Unrelated to Use of ‘Emerging Technologies’ Like AI
UPDATED: CNET, the tech news and reviews site owned by digital media and marketing company Red Ventures, has joined the parade of media-industry layoffs.
According to a source familiar with the cuts, CNET on Thursday slashed its news and video staff by about 50%; in addition, sister site ZDNet cut its editorial team by 35%. An earlier report by the Verge (which is a CNET competitor) citing an anonymous employee said CNET axed 10% of its workforce, or about a dozen staff members,.
More from Variety
ViacomCBS Reaches Deal to Sell CNET for $500 Million to Marketing Firm Red Ventures
ViacomCBS Looking to Sell CNET for $500 Million to Digital-Marketing Firm (Report)
Sofia Vergara's Latin World Entertainment Pacts with CNET for Tech Site en Español
A CNET spokesperson confirmed the site let go “a number of colleagues” as part of a reorganization but declined to quantify the layoffs.
According to the CNET rep, “Today’s decision was not a reflection of the value or performance of our team members, the use of emerging technologies, or our confidence in the CNET Group’s future.” The spokesperson added, “While it was a difficult decision to let employees go, we believe this is critical for the longevity and future growth of the business.”
CNET has been in the headlines after it disclosed that starting in November 2022 it had used an internally developed AI engine to generate 77 stories, about 1% of the site’s total content. That came after tech blog Futurism reported that CNET had quietly been publishing articles written by AI without anyone noticing. In January, CNET said it was halting the use of the AI tech after finding more than half of those stories contained factual errors or plagiarized sections.
According to CNET, with the reorg and layoffs, the site will narrow its coverage categories to five areas: consumer technology, home and wellness, energy, broadband and personal finance. Those are “categories where the CNET Group has a high degree of authority, relevance, differentiation and where we can make a large difference in the lives of our audience,” the spokesperson said. “We believe success in these focus areas will set the groundwork for future expansion and create the right conditions for a high-growth, sustainable business.”
Staffers laid off include CNET News executive editor Roger Cheng; culture editor Leslie Katz; senior writers Queenie Wong, Erin Carson, Laura Hautala and Sean Keane; editor at large Ian Sherr; science writer Monisha Ravisetti; video producer/host Claire Reilly; and video producer Chase Evans.
Okay, it’s my turn to share some “personal news”: Today is my last day as the head of CNET News. After pouring my heart and soul into this place for the last 11 years, I’m taking a long and much-needed break.
— Roger Cheng (@RogerWCheng) March 3, 2023
It’s been a tough day. After more than 4 years at CNET, I found out I’ve been laid off. 💔 I can walk away knowing that I’m proud of the stories I told and worked with talented people there. Change is scary but sometimes you’re forced to ask yourself: What’s next?✌️#layoffs2023 pic.twitter.com/hbK7xerY2p
— Queenie Wong (@QWongSJ) March 2, 2023
As part of the reorg, CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo after nine years at the helm will be taking on a new role as senior VP of AI content strategy and editor at large. Adam Auriemma is taking over as CNET’s editor-in-chief. Previously, Auriemma was the editor-in-chief of NextAdvisor, a former partnership between Red Ventures and Time focused on personal finance and prior to that was was EIC of Money, deputy bureau chief at the Wall Street Journal, managing editor at the Daily Beast, and deputy editor of Fusion (a joint venture of ABC News and Univision).
In 2020, Red Ventures acquired CNET Media Group in a $500 million deal with Paramount Global. In addition to the flagship CNET site, the group housed other brands including TV Guide, Metacritic, GameSpot and Giant Bomb — which Red Ventures sold last year to Fandom for about $50 million. In January, Fandom made layoffs affecting less than 10% of its workforce across those properties.
Other media outlets that have made layoffs in recent months include the Washington Post, Yahoo, CNN, Vox Media, NPR, BuzzFeed and Bustle Digital Group (BDG), which shut down Gawker as part of its cutbacks.
Best of Variety
From 'Daisy Jones & The Six' to 'Blonde': Books Made Into Movies and TV Series That You Should Read
Oscar Predictions: Documentary Short - Could ‘Stranger at the Gate’ Surprise on Oscar Night?
Oscars Predictions: Live Action Short - Alfonso Cuarón Could Tie Walt Disney’s Record With His Nominated Disney Short
Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.