Swing And Amiss?

It’s been a most depressing start to 2024 for folks who have worked hard and long to have their bylines in legacy publications.   Faced with economic forecasts that are anything but rosy for what bodes to be the most splintered and politically charged year ever in the history of advertising, numerous such iconic brands have, with the urgency of their boards’ self-centered motivations for profit reigning supreme, have announced significant layoffs and further consolidations.

2023 was the year of the strikes, most notably the pronounced and well-covered walkouts of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA in Hollywood that extended almost to year’s end and the UAW action in Detroit that drew a sitting president to its picket line last fall.  Perhaps borrowing a page from that playbook, this past week has seen an awful lot of similar actions, some even with some attempts at creative elements.

In New York, as CNN’s Liam Reilly reported:

More than 400 staffers at Condé Nast, the parent company of prestigious publications including Vanity Fair, Vogue and GQ, walked off the job Tuesday in a historic 24-hour work stoppage over the company’s plan to lay off staff.

The daylong walkout, intentionally timed on the day of the Academy Awards nominations, is in protest of what the NewsGuild of New York described as “unlawful handling of layoff negotiations and bad-faith bargaining.”  Hundreds of staffers were expected to join a picket line outside the company’s New York City headquarters that “will feature an Oscars-nomination-style treatment with a red carpet, ‘step and repeat’ and more to further highlight why these journalists chose to walkout,” the union said in a statement. In a video shared to X on Tuesday morning, protesting staffers could be heard chanting, “bosses wear Prada, workers get nada!”

And as VARIETY’s Marc Malkin exclusively noted, they were apparently even able to get perhaps the most recognized advocate of the Prada brand, Anna Wintour’s favorite intern, to join in on the festivities:

Anne Hathaway walked out of a Vanity Fair photo shoot Tuesday morning in support of the Condé Nast Union walk out. Hathaway was unaware of the work stoppage when she arrived at the New York City photo shoot. She was still in hair and makeup when her team was notified by a staffer from SAG-AFTRA to advise Hathaway to support the work stoppage.  They hadn’t even started taking photos yet,” a source tells Variety. “Once Anne was made aware of what was going on, she just got up from hair and makeup and left.”

Apparently, they needed the juice because later last week, other groups of disgruntled writers took the wintry New York City streets, per Reuters:

Unionized journalists at Forbes said they were staging a three-day walk-out from Thursday to protest alleged denial of rights and slow contract negotiations that have stretched for more than two years.

The planned walk-out, which started at 9 a.m. ET and will continue through Jan. 29 till 11:59 p.m. ET, marks the first known work stoppage in the magazine’s 106-year history, the NewsGuild of New York said.

And they were apparently jockeying for position on those sidewalks, as THE WRAP’s Eileen AJ Connelly reported:

New York Daily News staff hit the picket lines Thursday in a 24-hour walkout to protest the dragged-out negotiations with its hedge-fund owner since they unionized in 2021. ” Today, the New York Daily News Union is walking off the job for 24 hours,” the Daily News Union posted on X. “We are fed up with Alden Global Capital’s constant cuts and apparent commitment to shrinking the paper.”

The previous Friday, their former comrades in arms on the Left Coast had staged their own protest against the current owner of the Left Angeles TIMES, Patrick Soon-Chiong, as CNN’s Oliver Darcy chronicled:

The Los Angeles Times is in disarray.  The Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong-owned newspaper, which houses the largest newsroom in the western U.S., has been thrown into a state of mayhem as severe layoffs loom and senior editorial leaders abruptly call it quits. 

“I cannot overstate the level of chaos,” one staffer, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, candidly told me on Monday.

To say that it has been a rocky start to the new year for the venerable news outlet would be an understatement. Earlier this month, Kevin Merida suddenly announced that he was departing his post as executive editor after less than three years on the job. Then, news of forthcoming mass layoffs ensued, prompting the employee’s union to stage a historic one-day walk out on Friday.

But the end result was actually a LARGER number of jobs being cut–reportedly as many as 120–announced, as the GUARDIAN reported, on “an HR Zoom webinar“, with impacted employees’ badges immediately deactivated by Wednesday morning.   Notably, also per THE GUARDIAN the cuts seemed to be squarely aimed at areas and diversities that let’s just say aren’t quite as aligned with the priorities and backgrounds of the Soon-Chiongs and their hyphenate loyalists:

The LA Times layoffs appear to have affected a wide swathe of the paper’s reporters, editors, and managers. These included journalists and editors working on more digitally focused initiatives for younger audiences, such as the paper’s new “meme team” that had worked on TikTok content, prominent culture writers and those leading its national political coverage. Among the journalists laid off on Tuesday were the paper’s Pulitzer prize-winning DC bureau chief, Kimbriell Kelly, and its deputy DC bureau chief, Nick Baumann, who received their layoff notices on Tuesday, the day of the New Hampshire presidential primary election.  Among the journalists laid off was one of the paper’s only Indigenous editors, and many of those working on the paper’s newly launched De Los section, designed by and for Latinos, who make up roughly half of Los Angeles county’s population, and who have been historically underrepresented among the paper’s staff.

There’s more than a bit of irony that the task of reporting how the paper intends to move forward was left to the paper’s ENTERTAINMENT reporter Meg James, who attempted to put a positive spin on the “master plan” for what’s left of the TIMES:

Los Angeles Times owner Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong has appointed Terry Tang, editor of the editorial page, as the paper’s executive editor on an interim basis.  Tang, whose appointment takes effect immediately, becomes the first female editor in the paper’s 142-year history.  Soon-Shiong has maintained his commitment to revitalize The Times. But the paper’s ambitious turnaround plan launched five years ago was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Hollywood strikes last year that significantly reduced advertising spending by major film and TV studios.

Soon-Shiong and his family have covered more than $100 million in operating losses since the acquisition, the owner said. He has pledged to continue to invest in the organization and absorb losses.

Yeah, blame those damn strikers, why dont’cha?  Probably has nothing to do with the loss of nearly 90 per cent of its print circulation since 2002, and a digital footprint that is roughly a tenth of those successfully created by THE NEW YORK TIMES and WASHINGTON POST?  Or the unwillingness of a newsprint-averse generation to plunk down more than 10 cents a page on some weekdays for what’s left of a publication that continues to incenssantly report in detail on how dangerous the mere thought of a world without masking might be, exhausitvely combing through regular analyses of CDC bilge from the trusty journos safely working remotely that, miraculously, are not among those being cut?

But those who are believing that a solidarity walkout might have the same impact as what was seen by the grander scale efforts of last year are unfortunately as misguided as the views of those they are hoping to impact.  Your picket lines aren’t as star-studded as those that worked.  Anne Hathaway’s a nice get, but she’s got no Emmys and she’s not a sitting president.

And besides, in hindsight even what some strikers did get didn’t necessarily require those kind of efforts.  Very quietly last week, VARIETY’s Gene Maddeus dropped this little nugget:

The Directors Guild of America, the Hollywood union that did not strike last year, told members Thursday that it has won additional gains, including a viewership bonus for streaming shows.

DGA members will get a 50% residual bump for work on the most-watched shows on streaming platforms, matching the terms won by the Writers Guild of America.

The DGA also got increases in several other areas, including a .5% increase in pension and health contributions in both the second and third year of the contract.

So there are other ways to get your point across besides picket signs and public lamenting.

Maybe some of these impacted journalists should start a collective to compete with their failing legacy brands?   THE BULWARK, THE ANKLER and PUCK are all making strides and gaining subscribers by the day.  THE WRAP just celebrated its 15th anniversary.   There’s got to be a well-heeled centrist or two that would be willing to fund an actual competitor to the LA TIMES, similar to how THE BALTIMORE BANNER has emerged as an alternative to the now conservative-backed SUN (yet another failed former Tribune publication).

Soon-Shiong’s net worth reportedly dipped $500M in 2023.  Poor thing really needs a world where vaccines are popular and perceived as mandatory.  It’s pretty clear that’s where his focus is, not whether or not major league sports teams have a traveling beat writer.  That niche alone would likely be well received by the rabid fan bases–and their advertisers. Hint, hint.

So, writers, take note.  The next time you’re thinking a walkout will matter, perhaps consider that the next thing that should be struck should instead be keys on your laptops?

Until next time…

 

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