✎STUDY HALL DIGEST 8/20/2018✎
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By Study Hall staff writer Allegra Hobbs (@allegraehobbs)

Inside the Thrillist Decision to Strike

Last Monday, the Thrillist staff, fed up by months of a futile back-and-forth with Group Nine Media, walked out of work and met instead at the offices of union reps Writers Guild of America, East. Workers then voted overwhelmingly in favor of a strike, sending a clear message that even as they returned to work on Tuesday they would not hesitate to walk out again if necessary.

Workers in the bargaining unit tell Study Hall the decision, not arrived at lightly, came after a particularly frustrating series of blows in the drawn-out bargaining meetings that first began in March. Among the union’s immovable demands are a $50,000 minimum salary requirement with annual increases. Group Nine offered $40,000, which the union flatly refused. Group Nine came back in May offering to chip in an extra $500 to the figure — a placation workers found insulting. No headway has been made on that front since.

“We want a fair contract for ourselves, but this is just as much about setting the tone for the industry at large,” said cities editor Eric Vilas-Boas.

Finally, in late July, Group Nine held a much-anticipated meeting that they had promised would provide some clarity regarding the company’s finances. Those in attendance say the meeting was underwhelming and uninformative.

“The way it was represented to us was, ‘We’ll provide a lot of transparency...what chunk of money Thrillist contributes to the bottom line’...[but] at no point in that meeting did they give us a hard number,” said Vilas-Boas. “There were no dollar amounts whatsoever.”

The representatives did try to explain, through relative percentages, the ways in which the company was not “sufficient,” said another attendee, as if to justify its inability to guarantee a fair living wage for workers. (Group Nine Media is valued at $600 million.) 

“They all sounded like they were problems that management should be handling. It’s not our responsibility to figure out how to monetize the company,” entertainment editor Leanne Butkovic told Study Hall.

Workers say the walkout and vote to strike has yet to spur any action from Group Nine. A bargaining meeting is planned for September, but no hard date has been set, and that meeting was already in the books before the walkout.

Refusing to work is a last resort and is hardly ideal for the workers themselves, point out Vilas-Boas and Butkovic — those who returned on Tuesday found themselves temporarily locked out of their professional accounts and behind on work. But the overwhelming vote in favor of striking — 91 percent — made it clear the union will not hesitate to resort to such measures in the future if necessary. 

“We’re still optimistic,” said Butkovic. “Our resolve is very strong. We’re determined to get this done as soon as we possibly can, and achieve a fair, workable contract.”

In addition to the fight for fair wages, there is a clause in the contract-in-progress over management rights that is apparently causing some friction — sources say the way the contract is currently worded, management could feasibly hire freelancers as a direct result of firing staff members. Union members are pushing back, out of fear Group Nine could attempt to replace salaried staffers with freelancers.

In a statement to Study Hall, Group Nine implied the ball is in the union’s court, saying it supports the staffers’ decision to organize and has engaged with them in good faith. 

“We are absolutely committed to the growth and success of all of our employees and we look forward to resolving any outstanding issues and finalizing a contract at the negotiating table as soon as they are ready,” reads the statement. 

Radio Giant Joins Forces with Podcast Giant

In a match made in auditory heaven, two public radio giants have merged — Public Radio Exchange (PRX), one of the biggest podcast publishers in the nation (just behind NPR and WNYC) and Public Radio International (PRI), one of the biggest publishers of public radio content, are hoping each can fill in where the other lacks. PRI is the older and more moneyed legacy company, and PRX is the wave of the future, and seems to be taking the lead in the merger.

“You have PRI, which is still very valuable for its broadcasting assets, and you have PRX, which is a rising force and that is really quick and nimble at building out podcast initiatives,” said Nick Quah, founder of Hot Pod, which offers analysis on the podcasting industry.

Quah speculates the “merger” language used in announcing the new entity may simply be a formality — PRX CEO Kerri Hoffman will take the reins as CEO of the new entity, suggesting PRX will be “fully in the driver’s seat,” said Quah. “I’m very much viewing this as PRX with the much stronger hand here,” he said.

Regardless of who is at the wheel, the hope seems to be that the new entity could compete with the likes of NPR, undisputed king of the public broadcasting ecosystem with its roster of strong programming and growing audience. 

New York Magazine Set to Sale

New York Media, which owns New York Magazine and all its verticals, is exploring the possibility of a sale, according to the Wall Street Journal. The company has absolutely not denied the possibility of a sale, noting in a vague statement that it “makes sense” to “evaluate the market” for growth opportunities given how much the company has grown. How much has it grown? Literally 100 percent over the last year, with a digital audience of 35 million flocking to its sites this June. The biweekly print publication, on the other hand, currently has a circulation of 404,000 per issue. But are they seriously considering selling?? Well, after the WSJ story, CEO Pam Wasserstein sent a message to staff: “Partnering to support acquisitions or other ways of growing might make sense,” she muses. “Or it might not. The point is that I’m trying to make our company the best version of itself, as I know all of you are.” Well, that clears that up!

Rampant speculation from ed. Kyle Chayka: NYmag is taking on investment in order to bid on the remains of GMG, which would complement its current slate of titles and business model perfectly. Rumor also has it their tech blog Select All is shuttering...to be replaced by Gizmodo?  

Rejections Have Been Shared

Ah, rejections. The bread and butter of a life in media. But also...of life. Who among us has never been rejected? I was rejected once, right out of the Park Slope Food Co-op because I’m “not a member.” Not a very cooperative spirit! Furthermore, sometimes editors reject my pitches. Not cool! Because the rejection experience is so ubiquitous, media folks took to Twitter this past week to share theirs as a reminder that rejection is inevitable on the road to success and should be viewed as such, rather than an insurmountable road block. Not everyone was thrilled with the trend, with some noting that many partaking were wildly successful and that perhaps “not-immediate-success” and “rejection” are not entirely synonymous. Some further suggested that perhaps other information would be more pertinent in accounting for current success:

Neo-Nazi Targets Swedish Journalists

On a heavier note, fascist-bolstered anti-media vitriol goes well beyond our own fair country. A member of Sweden’s Neo-Nazi party was arrested after police determined he was planning to murder two journalists working for Mittmedia, a prominent Swedish media group. The police found guns, ammunition and photos of the reporters’ homes in the Nazi’s home and computer. The Nazi says he had no intention of actually harming the journalists. No one seems to be interested in taking his word for it.

Facebook is Dying?

I relate to Facebook in that I am also hurdling towards the grave, grappling with the implications of my own mortality as I try to cleave to whatever relevance I may have. In the last two years, Facebook’s monthly page visits have nose-dived from 8.5 billion to 4.7 billion. Ouch. But it still has WhatsApp and Instagram! Youtube, meanwhile, has seen growth, and it’s looking like it may soon overtake Facebook as second-most-trafficked website (Google is first). 

Longread(s) of the Week: In light of the outpouring of loving obituaries following Aretha Franklin’s passing, Longreads has compiled 12 stories on the Queen of Soul. Here they are.

SHORT LINKS:

— HBO makes strides in behind-the-scenes inclusion, according to The Hollywood Reporter

— The Wing makes most hourly workers full-time employees, per Fast Company, perhaps partly in an effort to combat critiques of the company’s, uh, woke credentials?

— Michelle Wolf’s “The Break” has been cancelled, and the writers found out they were losing their jobs via Twitter, according to the Daily Beast. Not a good look!

— Financial journalist Felix Salmon has a new gig at Axios. But how did he make it? Share your rejections, Felix!!

— A retrospective in the Village Voice on legendary rock critic Lester Bangs, the “Nostradamus” of the genre.

— After being the target of an alt-right backlash for her tweets, Sarah Jeong has employed a novel strategy of trolling: tweeting extremely inane things, which are nonetheless replied to by dozens of right-wingers calling her racist.