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Photo by Brian Ach/Getty Images for TechCrunch

BuzzFeed Chairman Ken Lerer is stepping down from his role after overseeing the viral internet publisher for over 10 years, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Why it matters: Under Lerer and CEO Jonah Peretti's leadership, BuzzFeed has grown to become one of the largest digital-native publications in the world. It's redefined online publishing as a business and has pioneered news coverage of internet culture and trends.

Details: Lerer informed the BuzzFeed board that he would officially step down last Thursday.

  • Lerer's departure is personal, sources said. He is stepping down to pursue other projects, as he feels the publication has reached a stage of maturity.
  • The board has not yet decided if it will name a new chair. according to sources familiar with the matter.

Between the lines: Lerer departs as BuzzFeed is undergoing major changes to sustain its growth.

  • In 2017, reports surfaced that BuzzFeed had delayed its rumored IPO plans after the company failed to hit revenue targets by 15-20%. It cut 100 staffers that year to refocus efforts around licensing content and away from native advertising.
  • In 2018, BuzzFeed shut down its podcasting unit and underwent a restructuring of its business team to explore new types of revenue, like commerce and licensing. This happened as its advertising business became stymied by the same industry headwinds facing all digital publishers.
  • In 2019, the company announced it would lay off roughly 15% of workers, or about 250 people, in an effort to get to profitability faster. BuzzFeed has been dogged by messy union fights ever since. Most recently, BuzzFeed News employees staged a nationwide walkout last Monday to lobby for union representation.

The big picture: Lerer oversaw BuzzFeed as it broke new ground, often writing the rules for how digital publishing could work as a business and how it could challenge the conventional notion of what online reporting and content should look like.

  • BuzzFeed was one of the first online publishers to leverage social media distribution to grow a media brand, redefining what it meant to go "viral" online.
  • It embraced online culture as a part of its aesthetic and vocabulary, popularizing concepts like "memes" and "gifs," while also normalizing the use of online short-hand, like "WTF" and "LOL" in reporting and public online conversation.
  • As BuzzFeed matured, it was the first to experiment with new business models for digital publishers, like licensing online franchises for offline commerce deals through its food brand, "Tasty," and launching TV shows for digital channels, like its "AM2DM" morning show on Twitter.
  • The company is now working toward its goal of becoming profitable.

What's next: The former AOL/Time Warner exec-turned digital publishing pioneer will continue to invest in new digital publishing upstarts as a managing partner of his New York City-based venture capital firm, Lerer Hippeau Ventures.

  • BuzzFeed is the second board that Lerer has exited in order to focus more of his efforts on his venture fund. Lerer exited Viacom's board early last year.

Note: Lerer Hippeau is an investor in Axios.

Go deeper

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

35 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.