From Mic Union | Mic Union to Media Management: We Are Watching
It's been over a month since Mic and Bustle Digital Group (BDG) abruptly laid off more than 100 hardworking reporters, editors, filmmakers, graphic artists and support staff. Mic’s sudden shutdown confirmed our long-held suspicions that management had been repeatedly and consistently misleading employees, investors, and the public, when asked about the company’s financial state, the surety of deals with distributed media platforms, and other factors that culminated in the company’s closure.
Since Mic’s closure, it’s become apparent that Mic and Bustle management are in cahoots, repurposing and posting unfinished content produced by laid-off, unionized workers, often without their consent. This past Friday evening, five weeks after the closure of our newsroom, BDG began quietly posting “content” on Mic.com.
These practices MUST stop immediately. Bryan Goldberg and Bustle Media Group are on notice that our union has no intention of letting them off the hook for this gross injustice. We pledge to continue to monitor and respond as BDG attempts to relaunch Mic from its ashes.
Frankly, there is no more Mic newsroom. Each and every editorial employee, from top to bottom, was abruptly and unceremoniously dismissed, after hearing rumors of BDG’s acquisition of Mic in panic-inducing news reports the night before. We were given just a couple of hours to pack up our belongings, back up work that we feared losing and say goodbye to colleagues, all while in a state of shock and confusion. Later that afternoon, Bustle management was already at our 1WTC office, picking over the “assets” of our newsroom. All involved in creating this chaos should be ashamed — but none more than Mic CEO Chris Altchek and Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg.
Inevitably, there will be more bombshell developments and shake-ups in digital media. But we can, and should, strive for better, more stable working environments. By 2020, there should be few, if any, digital newsrooms that haven’t seized on an opportunity to organize and create working conditions that encourage an open, thriving press and that promote the dignity of the people who do the work. We would like to thank all of our industry peers who reached out, invited us for coffees, bought us drinks and food, passed along job leads, scheduled interviews and offered freelance work to patch us over. As a unionized workforce, we were able to force the company to the bargaining table, to be transparent (finally!) about their finances and negotiate over the terms of our layoffs. Without our union, it’s unclear we would have been ensured anything at all. The Guild has been with us every step of the way, and we are grateful to be members.
In this new year, however, rather than harp on the disastrous failures of Mic and Bustle ownership, the Mic Union invites our peers to fight for better and force industry leadership to do better, period. Here’s how:
- Unionize your newsroom! Through collective bargaining, unions strengthen the workplace by giving digital journalists a voice in their newsroom and setting standards for their working conditions. Our shop was in the middle of contract negotiations with Mic management to improve our working conditions.
- Demand regular transparency about your media organization’s financial health and editorial strategy, with an emphasis on how those things affect employees and their work. Despite quarterly “all hands” meetings, executive leadership repeatedly misled or spun the truth when pressed by their employees. It became hard to trust any statement coming from top leadership, prompting an erosion of employee morale.
- Insist on clear, ethical journalistic standards. It’s vital for the credibility of the individual journalists, as well as of the organization, that adherence to common ethical standards and practices be front and center. This reassures sources and employees that corners won’t be cut at the expense of the people who sometimes risk a great deal to share their stories. Mic leadership showed little respect for those standards, after abruptly announcing the company’s closure.
- Establish committees with representatives of company leadership, to ensure diverse hiring (race/ethnicity, gender, sexuality, people with disability, religion, etc.) at all levels, and as a crucial element of any growth strategy. Urge further support of journalism diversity by sending recruiters and newsroom employees to any and all relevant industry conventions, especially the national associations of Black, Asian, Hispanic, Native American and LGBTQ journalists. Although Mic leadership sent employees to these conferences and maintained a noticeably diverse rank-and-file workforce, the executive team was always overwhelmingly white and cisgender.
- Discuss your wages with your colleagues, and find out if anyone (particularly women or people of color) is being unfairly compensated for similar work. Advocate for regular raises and access to benefits for your part-time colleagues. And discourage the abuse of contract workers and other precarious employees who do not have access to benefits.
- Create policy around newsroom employees' rights to their work: Unpublished writings, still images and video footage, graphic design assets, audio recordings, notes, documents and research that were reported, created, sourced or obtained by a newsroom employee should be their property, in the event of an acquisition, a layoff, a closure or other transition. As it stands, Mic’s laid off editorial workforce has no assurances that their unpublished work is not now the exclusive property of Bustle Media Group.
- Your welfare matters! Advocate for mental health check-ins and resources for newsroom employees who routinely cover, edit and support stories about traumatic events. Get clarity on newsroom policy around sexual assault and harassment, and the reporting of those crimes and offenses. Transparently cover allegations and incidents that occur in your own newsrooms. Mic leadership has a history of fumbling opportunities to provide these resources — the seven-year-old company hired its first experienced human resources professional less than a year before the layoffs.
- Get serious about infrastructure for archiving work published in digital outlets. Stories should not disappear from the internet in the event of a closure or acquisition. Stories that have homes on distributed platforms should be archived independently and in perpetuity, so that newsroom employees can use that work in portfolios and so that the public can also reference and cite that work. And as it stands, laid-off editorial workers have no assurances that their work will remain accessible under the stewardship of Bustle Media Group.
If you support these resolutions, share this statement with your colleagues, your unions, your journalism associations and your J-school programs. And share these resolutions on social media, with the hashtag #DignityInMedia.
The Mic Union
The NewsGuild of New York
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