Expertise in the language of the internet is part of what has made BuzzFeed a digital giant. Now members of the website’s news staff are using their fluency in digital culture to pressure their employer to come to the bargaining table.
The BuzzFeed News Union, which came to life four months ago when the staff decided to join the national News Guild, invoked an online trope in the bio of its Twitter account: “Building a stronger newsroom while staying nimble — get you a union who can do both.” The line is a play on the “get you a man who can do both” meme, which BuzzFeed explained in a 2016 piece.
Last week, the account posted a “sign bunny” — a pictogram of a sign-holding rabbit, made from computer symbols — to note that the company had yet to recognize the union.
On Monday, BuzzFeed News staff members took their efforts offline, staging a four-hour walkout at the company’s offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington.
The tools of protest at a rally outside its Manhattan headquarters were decidedly old school: signs, T-shirts, chants, a bullhorn for speeches and an inflated rat to signify a nonunion workplace. A Tex-Mex restaurant down the block sent pounds of chips and salsa in solidarity.
“If BuzzFeed is committed to having a news division, they need to keep up the industry labor standards that people fought for for decades,” said Dominic Holden, a political reporter who serves on BuzzFeed’s union organizing committee.
There has been a wave of unionization at online publications, getting its start at Gawker in 2015. Outlets that have followed Gawker’s lead include the original online magazines Slate and Salon; destination sites like Vice Media, HuffPost, Refinery29, The Dodo and Vox; the humor site The Onion; the podcasting company Gimlet Media; the music site Pitchfork; and New York Magazine’s online verticals The Cut, Vulture and Intelligencer.
In joining with unions, reporters and editors at online publications are following in the footsteps of their print predecessors. Now that digital media has matured, digital journalists have dropped the we’re-just-happy-to-be-published attitude that once sustained them.
“People want a career,” said Hamilton Nolan, a staff writer at the website Splinter, who helped lead the Gawker union drive. “They don’t just want to jump every couple years from job to job.”