Writers Guild of America East members are reacting to today’s news of the shuttering of G/O Media‘s Jezebel after an unsuccesful attempt to sell the site. The closure came amid word that parent company G/O Media was laying off 23 staffers, including Jezebel’s team.
The company attributed the cuts to part of a restructuring to cope with economic headwinds and a difficult digital advertising environment. The New York-based company also announced the departure of G/O Media editorial director Merrill Brown.
“We are devastated though hardly surprised at G/O Media and Jim Spanfeller’s inability to run our website and their cruel decision to shutter it,” the WGAE statement said. “Jezebel has been a pillar of fearless journalism and important cultural commentary since 2007 and made an indelible mark on the media landscape.
“The closure of Jezebel also underscores fundamental flaws in the ad-supported media model where concerns about “brand safety” limit monetizing content about the biggest, most important stories of the day—stories that create huge traffic because people read and share them,” the statement continued. “A well-run company would have moved away from an advertising model, but instead they are shuttering the brand entirely because of their strategic and commercial ineptitude. Jezebel was a good website.”
G/O Media CEO Jim Spanfeller announced the shutdown and layoffs in a note to staff Thursday.
“As of this week we are making the very, very difficult decision to suspend publication of Jezebel,” Spanfeller wrote. “Few decisions over the course of my career have been as excruciating, and I want to make clear this is in NO WAY a reflection on the Jezebel editorial team.”
“Unfortunately, our business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel’s,” Spanfeller added. “And when that became clear, we undertook an expansive search for a new, perhaps better home that might ensure Jezebel a path forward. It became a personal mission of Lea Goldman [G/O Media deputy editorial director], who worked tirelessly on the project, talking with over two dozen potential buyers. It is a testament to Jezebel’s heritage and bonafides that so many players engaged us. Still, despite every effort, we could not find Jez a new home.”
Launched in 2007 by Gawker Media with founding editor Anna Holmes, Jezebel featured news and cultural commentary geared towards women. After the breakup of Gawker Media, the site was purchased by Univision Communications and later acquired by G/O Media.
In July, WGAE demanded an “immediate end” to AI-generated articles on G/O Media sites, which also include A.V. Club, Deadspin, Gizmodo and others.
Calling bot-penned journalism “an oxymoron,” the union noted that “G/O Media published AI-generated articles on several unionized properties, embarrassing staff who work hard under untenable conditions to fill websites with relevant, accurate, and engaging journalism.”
WGAE members at The Onion also released a statement blaming G/O Media management for today’s layoffs.
“Our hostile and incompetent management made no effort to work with the union to find a less cruel alternative arrangement or take salary cuts themselves,” writers said in the statement.
“Our affected colleagues are talented artists, satirists, and journalists. This callous layoff has everything to do with G/O Media’s ineffectual management and nothing to do with the talent of our fellow workers, who should still be here with us.
“Since the formation of G/O Media in 2019, The Onion Inc. Union has shrunk by 61%, two websites have been shuttered, one has been sold, and multiple layoffs have occurred,” the statement continued. “Despite these enormous impediments, the editorial staff of G/O Media has continued to produce award-winning journalism and invest in these publications with a dedication entirely at odds with our apathetic and adversarial ownership.”