/Inside Bustle Digital Group: staff cuts, diversity concerns, bad press – Business Insider

Inside Bustle Digital Group: staff cuts, diversity concerns, bad press – Business Insider

  • Bustle Digital Group, a digital media conglomerate that has purchased Mic, Inverse, Gawker, and Nylon in the past year, has undergone stealth staff cuts, according to 24 former and current employees who spoke to Business Insider.
  • In the past month, at least 17 employees have been let go. Someone still at the company said, “everyone is wondering if they’re going to be next.”
  • Nylon, which BDG purchased in June, has shrunk to a fourth of its pre-acquisition size.
  • Employees at numerous publications have said the BDG’s new editor-in-chief for lifestyle publications Emma Rosenblum wants to move publications away from identity-centered coverage, stoking concerns over the company’s core values.
  • Adding fuel to the fire, Rosenblum has been criticized for bringing a nearly all-white leadership team over from Hearst while axing the most senior person of color at the company.
  • Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.

Bustle Digital Group, the parent company of female-focused flagship news site Bustle, has been on an acquisition spree for the past two years, expanding its portfolio to eight editorial brands including The Outline, Mic, Inverse, Gawker, and Nylon, with a new tech publication in the offing

In a media environment more accustomed to mass layoffs and shuttered publications, BDG’s swelling network presents a rare rosy image. CEO Bryan Goldberg told Bloomberg in June the company was projecting “a small profit” for the year. 

But it’s not all good news. Business Insider has learned that BDG has quietly been cutting staff, letting go of at least 5 percent of its workforce in the past month. Inside the company, the firings — along with concerns over diversity and murky editorial priorities — have fostered a “toxic” work environment, according to 24 current and former BDG employees who spoke with Business Insider.

At least 17 jobs have been cut in the past month

Bryan goldberg bustle BDG

BDG Founder and CEO Bryan Goldberg at Bustle’s Rule Breakers Festival on September 21 in Brooklyn, New York.
(Photo by Emily Assiran/Getty Images for Bustle)

Despite the acquisitions, and BDG’s self-proclaimed role as “the fastest-growing publisher in modern media,” at least 17 employees have been axed at numerous BDG publications in the past month. The company has also slashed freelance budgets across its sites.

“Everyone is wondering if they’re going to be next,” said one current employee. “Everyone is just afraid all the time; we don’t know when it will stop.”

The cuts have come in phases, which multiple sources have speculated was to avoid negative press.

Many were told that their positions were being eliminated. At least one terminated employee was told that the cuts targeted “underperformers,” but said they received no advance warning or complaints in performance reviews.

Asked for comment, Goldberg accused Business Insider of “FUD efforts,” an apparent reference to the disinformation tactic of deliberately spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt.

In an email to this reporter, Goldberg wrote:

“I am aware that you have been indiscriminately spamming my employees across every department of my company and spreading inaccurate rumors about layoffs and causing distress for dozens of people. A large number of our employees have shared with us your copy/paste inquiries and are concerned about their jobs on account of your false and damaging FUD efforts. As you are aware, we consider your methods to be journalistically sub-standard and potentially damaging, and we have logged this complaint with Nicholas [Carlson, Insider’s global editor-in-chief], and will respond/escalate in due course. Separately, we await your list of questions.”

Goldberg and BDG also denied that the cuts as “layoffs” and said the company’s headcount has grown in the last month to 315 — as large as it has ever been. 

A BDG spokesperson said, “It is an exciting time for BDG as we bring on new leaders to build and evolve our brands. We’re hiring across the board and will continue to invest in new talent.”

The BDG jobs page currently lists one full-time editorial position open across all eight properties.

Only a quarter of Nylon’s staff remains after it was acquired by BDG

Gabby korn former nylon EIC

Former Nylon Editor in Chief Gabrielle Korn.
(Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for NYLON)

The hardest-hit property in Goldberg’s growing empire of sites has been Nylon, the 20-year-old fashion, culture, and beauty magazine BDG purchased in June. Despite Goldberg’s announcement at the time of ambitious plans centered around the continued leadership of Nylon’s then-editor-in-chief Gabrielle Korn and a relaunch of the print version of the magazine, the majority of Nylon’s staff has disappeared.

At least four staffers were laid off as part of the acquisition. At least three more were cut without warning three months later. Korn announced her departure a month after the purchase. Nylon had 24 staffers prior to BDG’s acquisition; today it has seven.

Numerous sources said that BDG hasn’t laid out an editorial plan for Nylon and that the remaining staff are “treading water.”

In an October meeting attended by staff of BDG’s lifestyle publications, Nylon’s recently installed editorial director Alyssa Klein told employees that the site still lacked a detailed strategy, according to a recording of the meeting obtained by Business Insider.

But she did describe Nylon’s new imaginary target reader: “Chloe.”

“Chloe is 26, she lives in LA — this is big — Chloe is rebellious, risk-taking, and rule-breaking,” said Klein. “Chloe loves ‘Euphoria.'” Klein continued, “She’s effortlessly cool and is known for setting trends rather than following them.” Chloe is also up to date on “YouTuber drama” and “this season’s runway shows in Paris.”

Some are concerned that BDG is becoming less diverse

BDG has built its reputation on Goldberg’s purported mastery of what millennial and Gen Z readers want, and it claims to incorporate those generational values into its hiring choices. The company’s job listings note that BDG’s readers are looking “to hear from a set of diverse voices around the issues and interests engaging the next generation.” 

But internally, staffers say, diversity is on the decline.

When Korn departed, Nylon’s staff was devastated. As an openly gay woman who emphasized coverage of marginalized people, insiders say, she was central to Nylon’s identity.

Meeting Emma Rosenblum, who as BDG’s editor in chief for lifestyle oversees Nylon, didn’t allay their concerns.

Emma Rosenblum Bustle

Emma Rosenblum at Bustle’s Rule Breakers Festival.
Emily Assiran/Getty Images for Bustle

Sources say that in small group meetings, Rosenblum was critical of Korn and her perspective, which Nylon employees saw as essentially queer and diverse. The upshot, sources say, was that Rosenblum saw Nylon’s historically queer sensibility as more of a special topic than a central component of its voice, and planned to remake it as a general-interest women’s fashion site.

Nylon staff wasn’t alone in their concern over diversity at BDG. Other BDG employees described meetings with Rosenblum upon her arrival where she critiqued the company’s editorial culture and output, singling out identity-based perspective pieces for criticism.

On September 26, Rosenblum announced that she was bringing in Christina Amoroso and Katherine Stoeffel — two white women from Hearst — as Bustle’s executive editor and BDG’s features editor, respectively. She also promoted another white woman, Charlotte Owen, to be Bustle’s editorial director. Just seven weeks earlier, she had announced the hiring of another white woman, Klein, as editorial director of Nylon.

Former Bustle staffer Amanda Richards summed up a lot of BDG employee’s concerns on Twitter. “I will always have love and loyalty for the Bustle / BDG team that I worked with at the beginning of my time there, but right now the new EIC appears to be hiring exclusively white women for top level editorial and wow it’s pretty glaring.”

Numerous employees took note of the fact that former Bustle executive editor Jada Gomez, one of the highest-ranking women of color in the company, had been let go days before Rosenblum’s staffing announcement.

In response to questions about the above events and criticisms, a BDG spokesperson said, “Inclusivity is core to the DNA of our company and our brands, including Nylon.”

Employees describe a culture of fear, silence, and resignation

Bryan Goldberg glasses bustle

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Bustle

The staff cuts and diversity issues have caused morale to plummet.

“We get blindsided a lot by a lot of things,” one current employee said. “I think we’re all just tense and frustrated.”

Numerous sources said the company still hasn’t recovered from BDG’s catastrophic and failed attempt to relaunch Gawker. After staff raised complaints about the handling of allegations of racist and homophobic comments and behavior from Gawker editorial director Carson Griffith, a group of over 75 employees sent a letter, reviewed by Business Insider, to Bustle’s leadership team expressing their dismay.

“We no longer feel that this is a company that protects diversity of race, class, gender, sexuality, religion, size, or otherwise,” the letter’s first paragraph said. “Continuing to employ someone with a history of racist and homophobic behavior is an unforgivable transgression of your employees’ trust.”

The letter demanded Griffith’s termination and an apology from Goldberg, among other things. Griffith did not immediately offer comment, but she told the New York Times in March that she was “deeply saddened about the allegations that were brought forth by two former staff members” and looked forward to moving on.

Goldberg eventually held group meetings with staff members, where he apologized for his handling of the incident, but Griffith remained on staff until the Gawker project was ultimately shuttered in late July.

Numerous staffers said they felt like Goldberg and leadership weren’t taking them seriously after the affair. “Over the past year bustle has just destroyed their own reputation. I don’t feel like we’re being listened to,” said one current staffer.

Morale is particularly low among BDG’s extensive part-time staff, who make up the majority of the writing team. Cuts to freelance budgets have left many part-time writers confused and in the dark, a situation exacerbated by the fact that, some sources say, they are discouraged from fraternizing with other employees. The company held a separate New York Christmas party last year for part-time staff, where attendees were given a single drink ticket.

Nearly everyone who has departed the company signed some form of non-disparagement or non-disclosure agreement, and cited it in their request for anonymity.

A response to Google’s ever-changing algorithm

Google logo

Google logo
Charles Platiau/Reuters

Former employees who spoke to Business Insider tied the cuts to declining traffic across BDG’s sites, which they blamed on changes to Facebook and Google algorithms.

In September, Google issued a release on its blog saying that its algorithm was changing to highlight original reporting.

Rosenblum appears to be attempting to right the ship following that guidance.

On top of an emphasis on “joyful” and positive content, she appears to be encouraging a move away from aggregated news and towards reported features, “unexpected” takes, “authoritative content,” and expert perspectives.

While employees have praised some of those changes, they also expressed concern that chasing Google’s transitory preferences may end up watering down the distinctive properties that they’ve purchased.

“I don’t even think they know what they’re buying,” one current employee said. “I had no idea what they wanted us to be.”

Disclosure: Business Insider’s parent company Axel Springer is an investor in BDG. The author of this piece worked as an editor at Inverse before it was acquired by BDG, and once met with a BDG editor about a potential position at Gawker.

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