From Business Insider | Fortune staffers are walking off the job for a day to push for diversity and to protest new traffic quotas
Staffers at Fortune are staging a day-long work stoppage on Tuesday in the latest labor flare-up between digital media unions and publishers.
Members of the editorial union are walking off the job — digitally — in response to new performance targets set by management that include byline counts and traffic goals, union organizers told Insider. They are also pushing management to codify diversity measures into the union contract.
"They are not taking us seriously as of now, so we're demonstrating the value of our labor," said McKenna Moore, an assistant audience engagement editor and the first vice chair of the union.
Fortune management and the union, which represents 34 print and digital staffers, have been negotiating a contract since late 2019. Thirty members of the unit are participating in the 24-hour walk out, according to the union organizers.
"Fortune has been negotiating with the union in good faith, and will continue to do so," a Fortune spokesperson said.
Organizers said they are modeling the action on a similar work stoppage by the New Yorker magazine's union members earlier this year.
The move comes during a tough time for the storied business magazine, which was hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Fortune laid off 35 employees globally (about 10% of staff) and cut executive pay.
Like many publishers, Fortune's lucrative live events business has come to a halt. Fortune launched a paywall in early 2020 shortly before the pandemic took hold, but staffers said it has more recently focused on chasing web traffic.
With that strategy came byline counts and traffic goals beginning last year that have faced internal resistance. Sy Mukherjee, Fortune's union secretary and a healthcare reporter, said he is responsible for producing 250 stories and 4.1 million pageviews this year.
Mukherjee said those targets are unrealistic and not tied to good journalism. "It almost feels like you have to put a down payment in order to do your actual job," he said.
Fortune CEO Alan Murray said in an interview before the union informed management about the walk out that that there has been no wavering on the paywall and that Fortune needed greater traffic to convert more people into subscribers.
"If anyone thought that strategy meant you didn't have to worry about the size of your audience, they were just mistaken," he said.
Different reporters have different byline counts depending on whether they tend to write quicker web stories or longer features, Murray said.
Fortune generated 7.2 million unique visitors in January, according to Comscore figures (in April it brought in 17.5 million as many publishers experienced a pandemic news-related traffic boom.) Fortune states in its current media kit that it collects 13.6 million monthly unique viewers, citing Google Analytics data, and has nearly 1 million subscribers to 22 newsletters.
The organizers said they are pushing for more clarity on the traffic targets and whether failing to meet them could result in punishment. Murray said that, after a tough 2020, "If people got fired because they missed KPIs, I would not be sitting here today."
Numbers-related goals are not uncommon in the digital media industry. The performance of some staffers at Insider, for instance, is judged in part by metrics like the paid subscriber conversions and traffic their stories drive.
Fortune is among a handful publishers like The Washington Post and the The Atlantic that have been purchased in recent years by billionaire owners looking to reinvigorate a legacy title, a trend that has produced mixed results.
Fortune was sold in late 2018 to Thai businessman Chatchaval Jiaravanon for $150 million. The acquisition came as Fortune's former parent company Meredith sought to sell off titles after its purchase of Time Inc., which included the sale of Time magazine to Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff.
Union members are also pushing for stronger diversity-focused measures
Fortune organizers said the walkout is also in response to an effort to put diversity measures into the union contract which they said has been rebuked by management, like requiring 50% of candidates that get past the initial interview stage to be from underrepresented groups.
Murray said that the company has made strides on the diversity front, like hiring from a more diverse candidate pool and monitoring the makeup of its conference guests and sources in stories. He acknowledged the company had to do better to become more diverse.
Pay equity is also an issue, organizers said. Women in the bargaining unit make 84% of what men do, and members of color make 78% of what their white colleagues make, according to the union's salary information, Moore said.
Jake Meth, Fortune's commentary editor and the union's chair, said the union is pushing for a protection from non-disclosure agreements in cases involving sexual harassment, continued remote work flexibility after the pandemic, and guaranteed legal protection if a reporter is sued over a story.
Here's Murray's full memo sent to staff after the walkout:
As you probably know, members of Fortune's U.S. union decided to implement a 24-hour work stoppage today. This is surprising and unfortunate. Fortune has negotiated, and will continue to negotiate, in good faith with the union. I will leave details to the negotiating committee, but I have every reason to believe we will reach agreement.
In the meantime, you should know that Fortune is moving forward. Indeed, I can honestly say our future has never looked brighter to me than it does today.
We are growing our editorial team. We've added seven new journalists during the first quarter, and we have more coming on board in the near future. We also are injecting the newsroom with much-needed diversity. More than two thirds of those new edit hires have been journalists of color.
We learned new skills during the last year that have helped us grow our media audience and improve our premium subscription efforts. We successfully pivoted our conference business to virtual, holding more than 125 virtual events in the last twelve months. And we have launched a remarkably successful new product, Fortune CONNECT, that is profitable and growing. We're being more strategic and creative about how we balance our ambitious goals, and we're dreaming up new products and projects that show off the talents of our staff. Company-wide, that staff also is becoming more diverse. Of the 32 full and part-time hires in the U.S. and Europe in the last year, 19 have been women, and 16 have been from communities of color.
I know all of you care deeply about Fortune and its future. It is that devotion that has enabled us to get through the last year and emerge in a better place. You have much to be proud of. Your loyalty to, and your belief in, Fortune is paying off. Thank you.
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