May 11, 2021

Poynter Report author Tom Jones is on vacation this week and will return next Monday. Today’s Poynter Report was compiled by Angela Fu, Kristen Hare, Harrison Mantas, Rick Edmonds and Ren LaForme. 

Leadership at The Appeal, a nonprofit news outlet that reports on issues of criminal justice, announced a restructuring and a round of layoffs Monday, just minutes after staffers went public with their union drive.

More than 90% of eligible workers have signed cards in support of The Appeal Union, which management has stated they plan to voluntarily recognize. Employees wrote in a press release they are unionizing with the NewsGuild to improve working conditions and job security. The Appeal, which usually has a staff of around 50, has seen 38 people leave in the last year, the majority of whom were people of color and women.

The staff also wrote that leadership had “repeatedly shifted our structure and goals” in the past year and that they hope unionizing will give them more input in decisions that affect their work.

Several minutes after the union’s announcement, executive director Rob Smith informed staff in an email that the outlet would undergo a restructuring involving layoffs. The Appeal will pare down its leadership team, and it will eliminate its audience team and several editor and fact-checking positions.

At least one employee has already been laid off. They were informed of the layoff minutes before the union went public.

Smith cited financial reasons for the layoffs in the email to staff and wrote that the restructuring is part of an effort to make The Appeal independent. (The Appeal is currently financially sponsored by Tides Advocacy and Tides Center).

The staff alleges, however, that managers were aware of the union drive and that the layoffs are retaliatory. The National Labor Relations Act makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against workers because of their union activities.

The Appeal’s leadership denied prior knowledge of the union drive and wrote in an emailed statement to Poynter that months of consideration and discussion had gone into the decision to become an independent nonprofit. The plan to restructure is unrelated to the staff’s unionization efforts, wrote editor-in-chief Matt Ferner.

“The Appeal’s restructuring is centered on its core mission of providing impactful reporting and analysis and so it will be shifting to a more traditional newsroom structure,” Ferner wrote. “That means making the difficult decision to reduce the size of the team by eliminating some positions and consolidating others that are not directly contributing to reporting and news analysis.”

Ferner added that The Appeal will voluntarily recognize the union once it becomes an independent organization.

“While The Appeal announced today its decision to become an independent organization, it will be several weeks for that process to be completed so we do not have the authority at this point to recognize an effort by our employees to unionize,” Ferner wrote. “We are in discussions with our fiscal sponsors, Tides Advocacy and Tides Center, on this matter to better understand the process with regards to this current effort.”

Dozens of newsrooms have unionized over the past year. The surge in union drives began in 2015 when digital outlets like Gawker and HuffPost decided to unionize. In recent years, staff at newspapers have organized with increasing frequency, and the vast majority of these unionization efforts have been successful.

Shortly before The Appeal Union went public, staff at The Kansas City Star announced their own union drive. The Kansas City News Guild, which represents 40 journalists, is calling on parent company McClatchy to voluntarily recognize them. They are the ninth McClatchy paper to unionize in the past year.

If McClatchy does not voluntarily recognize the Kansas City News Guild, employees will have to vote to unionize through a National Labor Relations Board election.

Newsmax cuts off a guest question about “The Big Lie”

We’re not sure what Newsmax bookers thought would happen when they invited former Obama speechwriter David Litt on to talk about “Saturday Night Live” and Elon Musk, but Litt did not talk about either.

“What happened on SNL this weekend was that people made stuff up and then said it on television like it’s true,” Litt told host Rob Finnerty. “And that actually happens pretty frequently in American TV. For example, in 2020, Dominion Voting Systems sued Newsmax over its false claims about election fraud. Newsmax was lying to its own viewers, and Newsmax had to settle that lawsuit. So, actually, I just need to check in. Are you still telling that lie or are you telling new lies?”

The interview didn’t last too long after that.

Teen Vogue has a new editor

Teen Vogue’s new editor is NowThis’ Versha Sharma.

In a statement, Anna Wintour, the global editorial director of Vogue and the chief content officer of Condé Nast, said, “Versha is a natural leader with a global perspective and deep understanding of local trends and issues — from politics and activism to culture and fashion — and their importance to our audience.”

On Monday, Sharma tweeted, “I am incredibly excited and grateful for this awesome opportunity. Thank you to everyone who helped get me here!”

Condé Nast’s online magazine made headlines previously after hiring journalist Alexi McCammond, who resigned after 20 staff members publicly protested over past racist and homophobic tweets.

Hearst Magazines is offering buyouts on the business side

About 600 of Hearst Magazines’ more than 2,000 employees are eligible for a buyout offer, Keith J. Kelly reported for the New York Post. Those employees are in the company’s sales and marketing departments.

The publisher of Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar did not reveal how many buyouts it seeks, but warned if it does not get enough volunteers, it may impose involuntary cuts in a matter of weeks.

Poynter is still keeping track of industry layoffs, buyouts and closures that have occurred during the pandemic.

Substack — bright hope for journalists or just more quarreling?

The newish Substack platform is still mostly in a honeymoon period in its media coverage. The company offers a forum for journalists to write independently in newsletter format — for free if they wish or paid according to the subscription base they generate. Substack has lured some big-name contributors like Matt Yglesias from established organizations with signing bonuses.

Hold the bouquets, though, a new piece in The Atlantic says. Staff writer Helen Lewis contends that Substack is cranking out “soap operas for people who think they’re above soap operas.” With some exceptions, she says, heated arguments and counterarguments on overexposed topics like cancel culture are Substack writers’ bread and butter.

“The platform has achieved prominence as an emporium of internet beefs, a refuge for heterodox authors who have fallen out with their editors or run afoul of the prevailing ideology in their former newsrooms,” Lewis writes.

MSNBC interviews Biden and the COVID-19 response team

President Joe Biden (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell will interview President Joe Biden at the White House “on the administration’s pandemic response, vaccine rollout and efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy following the announcement of the new goal to have 70% of adults vaccinated with at least one dose by July 4.”

The interview will be followed by a town hall with the White House COVID-19 response team — Dr. Anthony Fauci, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy — and an interview with immunologist Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, who helped develop the Moderna vaccine, “to discuss the science behind the vaccine and her efforts to temper vaccine hesitancy in communities of color.”

“Vaccinating America: An MSNBC Town Hall” will air on MSNBC and stream on Noticias Telemundo’s digital platforms on Wednesday at 10 p.m. Eastern.

NBC News pulls out the stops for a series about social media

As part of its “Social Challenge” series, NBC News is doing a deep dive into the impacts social media has had on American culture, politics and society.

NBC News technology correspondent Jacob Ward looked at how social media algorithms keep people in ever more polarized bubbles. Senior international correspondent Keir Simmons talked with a Facebook insider about the company’s response to the Capitol insurrection, and whether it could have done more.

As part of Thursday’s NBC Nightly News broadcast, MediaWise ambassadors Savannah Sellers and Lester Holt will highlight the work of the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network. Sellers said in an interview with Poynter that part of the segment will be geared towards demystifying fact-checking and giving the audience basic tools they can use to fight online falsehoods. Sellers’ MediaWise report will air this Thursday on NBC “Nightly News with Lester Holt” at 6:30 p.m. Eastern.

Kenny Mayne leaving ESPN

Kenny Mayne attends in 2019 (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Long-time ESPN personality Kenny Mayne announced on Twitter Monday that he will leave the network, calling himself a “salary cap casualty.” Mayne joined ESPN in 1994 and appeared on a variety of shows, most notably “SportsCenter.”

Correction

In yesterday’s Poynter Report, we wrote that Gannett aims to grow paid digital subscriptions from 1.2 million now to 19 million over five years. Gannett actually aims to grow digital subscriptions to 10 million over five years. We apologize for the error.

Have feedback or a tip? Email Poynter senior media writer Tom Jones at tjones@poynter.org.

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