BuzzFeed News staff got some bittersweet news today: The newsroom’s interim-editor-in-chief, Samantha Henig, has decided to move on herself — and out of journalism. According to a lengthy email obtained by Gawker, Henig has decided to pursue her dream job as an ice-cream executive at a scoop-shop brand that filed for bankruptcy two years ago. Or as Henig put it in her parting message:
I’m going to take a job as the COO of Ample Hills, a Brooklyn-based ice cream company that I have long been obsessed with. In fact, when I had parting coffee with AG Sulzberger in 2019 just before leaving The New York Times and he asked me what was next for me, I posited that perhaps I would try to get a job at Ample Hills because it brings me so much joy. (He seemed confused.)
If the name “Ample Hills” sounds familiar — it’s because it was a Brooklyn creamery that popped up in Prospect Heights in 2011, found a local cult following, raised a ton of money, and then ingloriously imploded in 2020. One of its fans was Disney executive Bob Iger, who partnered with the company to make it the “official ice cream of Disney’s Star Wars film franchise.” In its short lifespan, the company raised $19 million in investment money, opened almost two dozen new locations, and opened a “Willy Wonka-esque, 15,000-square-foot production space” to try and disrupt ice cream. Apparently, it blew millions on that last errand (for the full story, check out this Medium investigation).
A BuzzFeed staffer told Gawker: “I was completely unaware of Sam's passion for ice cream start ups, I suppose. But it was quite an interesting anecdote about A.G. Sulzberger, and I certainly would love to hear his comments on the matter.” (Neither Henig or Sulzberger immediately returned Gawker’s request for comment).
Not long after Henig’s chat with Sulzberger, she joined BuzzFeed as their Executive Editor of Strategy, where she stayed for two years before moving up to a Vice President role, according to LinkedIn. In March, after BuzzFeed CEO Jonah Peretti announced plans to downsize the newsroom, former editor Mark Schoofs resigned, along with two of his top deputies. Henig came on as his replacement until the newsroom hired a new editor-in-chief.
Part of Henig’s role was helping make the newsroom profitable; in Schoof’s goodbye email, he called her “the lead person in shaping our revenue strategy.” If BuzzFeed’s plunging stock and shrinking staff are any indicator, that strategy may have had mixed results. But a BuzzFeed employee told Gawker that Henig was “very open about the fact that interim editor-in-chief [meant] interim.” Her background was not in editorial roles, the staffer said, and was always clear that she was “keeping things moving while we got the new editor-in-chief.”
BuzzFeed named Karolina Waclawiak to the role last month, so staff expected Henig was on her way out. They did not expect her email, which you can read in full below.
I couldn’t be more excited about the changes that Karolina just announced, and about us finally moving into this next phase as a newsroom. We have creative reporters and editors here that are bursting with talent and new ideas; we have a squad on the business side committed to getting BuzzFeed News on a path to profitability; and we have in Karolina a dynamic Editor-in-Chief with a deep understanding of the internet and pop culture and what makes us distinct, bolstered by what is soon to be an incredible leadership team, starting with Jamilah and Brandon.
As recently as a couple weeks ago I was planning to be here for this next phase of BuzzFeed News, which I truly think will be the most fun this newsroom has gotten to have in a long time, while also continuing to produce great journalism that gets attention and impact. But in a twist of fate befitting a rom-com, I recently ended up landing my dream job, and it felt like an opportunity I just had to take.
So I’m going to stay on through the summer to work with Karolina and Jack Riley on plans to reinvest and rebuild this newsroom for long-term sustainability and growth (we’ll have more to share on that soon!). And then I’m going to take a job as the COO of Ample Hills, a Brooklyn-based ice cream company that I have long been obsessed with. In fact, when I had parting coffee with AG Sulzberger in 2019 just before leaving The New York Times and he asked me what was next for me, I posited that perhaps I would try to get a job at Ample Hills because it brings me so much joy. (He seemed confused.) I’m tickled that I’m getting that opportunity now, and eager to learn a totally new industry.
I can honestly say that there is no media company I would rather be at right now than BuzzFeed. Aside from my genuine enthusiasm for what’s to come in this newsroom, I’ve also enjoyed working with the executive team here. I’ve gotten to work closely with Jonah over the past couple months in particular, and have been impressed and heartened to see up close what a creative visionary and deeply reasonable person he is, and how deeply he believes in the work that this newsroom is doing and the good that it brings to society. Our CFO, Felicia, is a badass trailblazing woman who loves this newsroom and has put a ton of thought and energy into how to set us up for long-term financial success. Our new CRO and COO, Edgar and Christian, both came from Complex and have a keen appreciation for the power of a premium brand and premium audience, and have smart ideas about how to grow revenue for BuzzFeed News beyond just chasing scale. We’ve got a new President coming in, Marcela Martin, who I got a chance to meet a couple weeks ago and I can tell will be a smart and experienced champion for us at the highest levels. And Carole, our Chief Communications Officer, is the warmest, most lovely human I have ever had the pleasure of working with (and also a keen hirer; see: Matt and Lizzie), plus she is legit cool enough to hang with rock stars. (Go listen to episode 5 of Wind of Change and you’ll see what I mean!)
I say all of this just to underscore that I’m not leaving due to lack of faith in the future of this newsroom or this company or our leadership. In fact, I leave brimming with it.
Nor am I turning my back on media for good. I love the idea of some day returning with newfound ice cream perspective. Maybe that’s just what the news business needs, but no one has ever taken the strange career path to get us there!
It’s not goodbye yet – I’m here through the summer – but I wanted to be transparent about my plans as we chart the future for BuzzFeed News. I’m around if you want to talk more, or just to gush about ice cream.