By Study Hall staff writer Allegra Hobbs (@allegraehobbs)
WHAT’S DISGUSTING? UNION-BUSTING!
Pitchfork’s union is currently battling it out with management at Condé Nast to retain Stacey Anderson, a senior editor of color who is an important union member, amidst company-wide layoffs — a battle which culminated last week in a four-hour work stoppage. The conflict shows how essential unions are in promoting diversity and combating systemic racism within newsrooms.
Even before the layoffs began, the Pitchfork union had encountered resistance in attempting to secure commitments to newsroom diversity from Condé. The union proposed an addition to the contract that would ensure 50% of those interviewing for positions at Pitchfork would be from underrepresented backgrounds, but according to the union, Condé Nast and Pitchfork counsel representatives shot the proposal down in a meeting, claiming that “for certain positions it’s hard to find qualified applicants from underrepresented backgrounds” and “not every job is created equal.” Yikes!
Pitchfork staff writer and union member Noah Yoo was in the room when a representative of the company made this rebuttal. “We just kind of sat there and stared at him, wondering if what he said was as racist as it sounded, and I think it is,” he said. “To assert that a candidate from underrepresented groups in New York City would be unable to review an album or edit at a high level is patently ridiculous.”
Then came the pandemic and mass layoffs. In May, Condé Nast announced that nearly 100 employees in the US would be laid off and 100 more would be furloughed. Other titles within the company faced issues at the bargaining table around this time — members of the Wired union complained that the severance packages doled out were “meager or nonexistent,” and the New Yorker union has said management is resisting a contract provision that would protect employees who speak out about discriminatory workplace conditions.
At Pitchfork, only one union member was laid off during the pandemic — Anderson, who happened to be the union’s unit chair. She is also responsible for overseeing Pitchfork’s best-of lists. “To us, this was a red flag, because the lists are a big part of our brand identity,” said Yoo. “It’s what I grew up reading Pitchfork for, so it gave us all pause and we thought, that doesn’t track.”
The union began researching alternative budget proposals that would allow Anderson to keep her job, like the one staffers successfully negotiated at BuzzFeed, where pay cuts helped avoid layoffs. They proposed one such plan two weeks ago, but after receiving no response from management, the union carried out a half-day work stoppage on Thursday from 9 am to 1 pm, during which time staff did not post or promote any new content. They demanded Condé Nast not fire Anderson and accept the union’s proposal that would save her job.
That same day, Condé released a statement promoting the company’s record of hiring staffers of color and insisting the layoffs are not targeted in any way. Yoo disagreed.
“When we talk about this as union-busting, this isn’t hyperbole,” he said. “They’re literally going after the person who is doing the most [union] work and the most visible individual in the union.” According to Yoo, management had claimed they needed to fire Anderson due to pandemic-related cuts and unspecified changes on the company’s business side, but when asked to elaborate on what those changes were, the company did not respond.
“[The work stoppage] also isn’t about Stacy per se — it’s to protest the larger stagnation that has happened when it comes to bargaining with Condé Nast,” Yoo added.
It’s also about the company’s history with staffers of color. Bon Appétit editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport resigned amid damning accounts of racism in the workplace and a photo that resurfaced of him in brownface. In the days before the Pitchfork work stoppage, the New York Times published a look at complaints of workplace racism within Condé Nast. The nearly all-white executive team has issued apologies, but questions about old-guard executives like Anna Wintour stepping down have been brushed aside.
To Yoo and his colleagues, incidents like management’s response to their request for greater diversity in the interviewing process is indicative of the company dismissing concerns about institutional racism. “When it comes to diversity and inclusion, Condé Nast has been broken for a long time,” reads the union’s statement. “This includes Pitchfork. Stacey’s removal would be the second layoff of a Senior Editor of color in under 18 months.”
As workers demand media companies address racism in their newsrooms, media unions have become crucial players — they can negotiate for more inclusive contract language and greater diversity. Many seem to be making such contract provisions a priority, as with the New Yorker union insisting on greater protections for those who speak out about discrimination. In this way, union-busting and the perpetuation of workplace discrimination go hand-in-hand.
LONGREAD OF THE WEEK In the London Review of Books, Nick Richardson writes an informative, hilarious analysis of the history of humans attempting to communicate with aliens. (He uses the neologism “Meti” for this phenomenon, which stands for “messaging extra-terrestrial intelligences.”) The piece includes fictional moon-dwellers who turn out to be Christians, a plan to plant a diagram of the Pythagorean theorem in wheat and trees on the Siberian tundra, and lots of Carl Sagan. “Unfortunately, the things that make a Meti message risky are the same things that make it more likely to elicit a response,” Richardson writes. “Like AI research, Meti has the potential to expose us to a vastly superior intelligence that could either solve all our problems or obliterate us entirely.”
— Former Complex staffer Tiffany Wines spoke out about a culture of racism and misogyny at the company, plus a generally toxic and unsafe work environment that involved drug-laced cookies being left in the kitchen. Other former staffers have since posted about their mistreatment at the company, including sudden, severe pay cuts.
— Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, hosts of the podcast Another Round (one of many ex-Buzzfeed shows that hosts took independent), criticized Jonah Peretti on Twitter for refusing to grant them the rights to the show’s back catalogue. It was just the latest instance of mistreatment from the company’s management, according to Clayton. Applying public pressure seems to have worked — Nigatu tweeted that her reps are currently in touch with Peretti and BuzzFeed’s general counsel about rights to the earlier episodes.
— 29 staffers were laid off at WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. According to the union, WBUR CEO Margaret Low did not consult the union before announcing layoffs and has refused to consider alternatives like furloughs and pay cuts.
— Colin Kaepernick is joining the board of directors at Medium, where he will write about race. His publishing company Kaepernick Publishing will partner with Medium to create content across the company’s platforms.
— As Fox News faces a slander lawsuit from former playboy model Karen McDougal over Tucker Carlson’s claim she extorted the president, the network’s lawyer is claiming Carlson is merely a “commentary” show and that its viewers do not expect him to report facts.
— Malcolm Gladwell’s hairdresser “specializes in $600 haircuts”? Surprising!