Gizmodo Media's Clueless New Owners Tell Reporters They Can't Use Encrypted Email Any More
from the wait,-but...-whut? dept
G/O Media is the latest incarnation of Gizmodo Media, after it was sold by Univision to private equity firm Great Hill Partners earlier this year. Univision, of course, acquired “Gizmodo Media” out of the remnants of Gawker Media, after that company was forced into bankruptcy by a bogus lawsuit and a bad court ruling. There had been plenty of indications that the reporters and editors at G/O Media were chaffing under their new bosses (despite Great Hill putting media exec Jim Spanfeller in charge) as they very quickly laid off some of their best reporters, including Kashmir Hill.
Last month there were reports that the staff were “enraged at the new CEO’s ‘insane’ direction” and the details of all that flooded out — in classic Gawker fashion — on one of their own sites, Deadspin, which posted a truly incredible piece of journalism entitled This Is How Things Work Now At G/O Media. It’s a really damning report. And it’s long. It talked a lot about how the new bosses brought in a bunch of old friends (all white men) often replacing (or simply ignoring) women who were already in those jobs. It’s full of choice quotes like the following:
The internal reaction to these hires has ranged from confusion to anger. The confusion stems from a lack of communication. For instance, Rogers, who sits in a corner office in New York, still hasn’t been formally announced as a new employee internally or externally, and sources who work in sales say it’s unclear what his job description is, though he evidently has plenty of time to contribute to Forbes, where he posted 14 articles in July. (“The people I work for and the people who report to me know what I do,” Rogers, 63, told Deadspin in an email.)
Forbes is not owned by Great Hill and is a competitor to G/O Media. So, it’s kinda weird for your employee, who has an office, but no title or job description, to be contributing to a competitor’s site.
Anyway, things got even more bizarre last week. Perhaps, as part of management’s anger at the Deadspin article, G/O Media bosses sent around a memo to all staffers that is pretty messed up if you’re at all familiar with how media tends to work:
The G/O handbook declares that the company can search employees’ “personal vehicles, parcels, purses, handbags, backpacks, briefcases, lunch boxes,” review all electronic communications made on company property, and disclose those messages to others if the company deems it appropriate. The new rules also strangely allow the company to access reporters’ “tweets” and bars employees from using encrypted email programs—a common tool journalists often use to protect highly confidential sources.
Perhaps most bizarrely, the handbook also establishes an attendance policy and a dress code. Employees must arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., according to the handbook, and are required to wear “smart casual” attire. “Offensive” logos or “sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, biker shorts, Mini-skirts, beach dresses, midriff tops, and halter tops” are all banned.
That’s the kind of thing that a really paranoid management who has totally lost control over its employees would demand. It’s a “the beatings will continue until morale improves” kind of thing. Most of the stuff is just culturally clueless about how to treat reporters. But the ban on encryption — obviously to allow management to better snoop on emails — is positively insane. The company still employs some great investigative reporters, who regularly rely on encrypted emails to protect their sources. Requiring no such thing in a media company is suicidal.
Indeed, one of G/O’s excellent reporters, Dell Cameron, has already said the company would need to fire him if they want him to stop using encryption:
— dell cameron (@dellcam) August 16, 2019
Cameron later noted that he heard that the company will “scrub” the “corpolingo bullshit” and no one will be forced to give up encryption. But still. To even send around such a document suggests a pretty profound cluelessness.
Meanwhile, the reporters there are unionized, and the union notes that many of the policies in the handbook obviously contradict their existing contract and are “incompatible with our work.”
Our statement on the G/O Media handbook. pic.twitter.com/pf3MaluIwe
— GMG Union (@gmgunion) August 16, 2019
The big question to me, though, is what the hell did Great Hill Partners and Spanfeller think they were buying in the first place? Didn’t they have some understanding of what they were getting? Because, so far, all of these moves suggest they just bought the property without understanding literally anything about it, other than that people had heard of it and it got some traffic.