Vice Media reveals more layoffs as coronavirus slams digital operations


The boss of Vice Media blamed “Big Tech” as she revealed a fresh wave of layoffs at the gonzo news gatherer, saying Silicon Valley poses a “great threat to journalism.”

The Brooklyn-based media outfit — co-founded by its hard-partying executive chairman Shane Smith — is facing “business challenges,” Chief Executive Nancy Dubuc said Friday. In a memo to employees, she confirmed that Vice is eliminating 55 positions in the US and 100 jobs overseas, primarily in the struggling digital division.

But rather than the pandemic, which has squelched demand for ads across the board, Dubuc focused on the fact that tech giants Google and Facebook now control the lion’s share of the online advertising business.

“We grew our digital business faster than anyone at a time when we believed that as more pies were baked, we’d keep getting a slice,” Dubuc wrote.

“But we aren’t seeing the return from the platforms benefiting and making money from our hard work. Now, after many years of this, the squeeze is becoming a chokehold. Platforms are not just taking a larger slice of the pie, but almost the whole pie… 36,000+ lost jobs in journalism is enough to take your breath away,” she added.

In recent weeks, BuzzFeed, Group Nine Media, owner of Pop Sugar and Thrillist, as well as New York magazine-parent Vox Media, have all adopted a mix of measures to cull costs, including furloughs, pay reductions and layoffs.

“I worry about the day that I fear is fast approaching, when I wake up and everything I see, touch and know is because a few machines filtered my view by ‘optimizing’ the world around me for the sake of more growth and more revenue,” Dubuc said.

She called for the media industry to “stand together” in the face of “monopolies,” while offering her own newly laid-off employees severance pay, their work-issued laptops and job search guidance.

“Currently, our digital organization accounts for around 50 percent of our headcount costs, but only brings in about 21 percent of our revenue,” the memo said. “Looking at our business holistically, this imbalance needed to be addressed for the long-term health of our company.”

Dubuc said the US-based cuts will take place Friday and the overseas layoffs will hit in the coming weeks.

“Publishing right now is difficult across the whole industry — plain and simple — and the pandemic has intensified the tensions we all know exist between publishing and advertising,” she added.

Such cuts have been part of a larger reorganization under Dubuc, who joined Vice in March 2018. A year into her tenure, the company cut 10 percent of its staff, or about 250 people.

Last month, according to a leaked document obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Vice was looking at laying off as many as 300 employees, primarily at its Vice New division and at Refinery, 29, the women-focused digital publisher it acquired last year.

At the time, a Vice spokeswoman told The Journal that the planning document represented one of several scenarios being developed inside the company.

A Vice rep didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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