First, Brooke Binkowski was burned out.
Then, she was told that she had been fired because of some unspecified complaints.
Finally, they said they were eliminating her position altogether.
So by the time that Snopes co-founder and CEO David Mikkelson called her last Monday to say she was fired, Binkowski didn’t know what to believe.
“I honestly have no idea,” the former Snopes managing editor told Poynter. “I was given no hints. I was never written up for anything.”
She had worked for the fact-checking organization for about three years. She joined in 2015 to lead the site’s editorial team, which works remotely and has about seven staffers. By the time she left, she said she was editing about 15 stories a day, looking over video transcripts and handling most media requests.
To not know why she was let go is offensive — although not too surprising, she said.
“To me, this is symptomatic of a much larger problem of transparency within the company. Nobody is forthcoming with information that dramatically affects editorial,” Binkowski said. “One of those things was me not knowing if I was in trouble.”
She had made mistakes in the past. There was that one time she insulted conservative commentator Dana Loesch on Twitter, which Binkowski said Mikkelson had talked to her about. Binkowski said that one was her fault and she shouldn’t have done it.
But then one time Mikkelson and Vinny Green, vice president of operations at Snopes, sprang a daily newsletter idea on Binkowski without her input, she said, which she pushed back against.
“It’s just absurd,” she said. “I pitched a fit and said, ‘Why didn’t you ask me about this?’ That didn’t go over very well.”
There were other small mistakes she made at Snopes, but Binkowski said Mikkelson never threatened to fire her before.
Poynter reached out to Mikkelson and Green via email, Slack and phone for more context, but neither responded to repeated requests for comment.
Binkowski said her firing is just the latest thing she doesn’t know about how Snopes works. Last summer, after Snopes started raising money for a legal battle over the site’s ownership, Binkowski said she wasn’t included in financial discussions.
Snopes’ GoFundMe had raised more than $835,000, as of publication — not including the amount raised from a separate PayPal account. While Snopes, one of the oldest and most-read fact-checking projects in the world, discloses other sources of funding on its website, the PayPal contributions weren’t listed as of publication.
“No one knows how it works internally — including me,” Binkowski said. “Even if everything is on the up and up, the appearance is bad.”
Binkowski said Mikkelson had pressed for more Associated Press wire stories in recent weeks. But now that she’s gone, Binkowski said she still isn’t sure how the site is going to fill in gaps in fact-checking coverage.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do now that I’m not there. They’re probably going to hire somebody else,” she said. “Can’t say I wish them the best, but good luck to them.”
Before joining Snopes, Binkowski had been a freelance reporter covering the U.S./Mexico border after several years in local broadcast radio. She said that she’d like to start her own fact-checking or media website next — one that’s not in direct competition with Snopes and practices transparency.
“I believe in Snopes’ mission. I intended to be there for the long haul,” Binkowski said. “I think it’s so important. I’ve always been a journalist first and foremost, so for this to go this way has been heartbreaking.”
“I feel like this is what a divorce would feel like.”