Six weeks after Bustle Digital Group bought the digital website Mic and fired all of its staff, many of the former employees are seething and ready to wage a publicity battle on the site’s new ownership.
In late November, BDG announced that it was buying Mic for virtually nothing and would relaunch the site. But there was an enormous catch: The nearly 50 remaining editorial staff, who were part of a union that did not have a contract, were immediately laid off.
And over the last several weeks, former editorial staffer have grown increasingly upset as they began to hear that BDG was tinkering with their previously unpublished work.
In an op-ed set to publish Friday morning, Mic’s editorial union blasted former CEO Chris Altchek and BDG CEO Bryan Goldberg, saying Altchek misled former Mic staffers about the state of the site’s finances, and Goldberg engaged in practices hostile to the site’s former writers.
“All involved in creating this chaos should be ashamed—but none more than Mic CEO Chris Altchek and Bustle CEO Bryan Goldberg,” they wrote.
The op-ed note comes after a month of growing frustration among members of Mic’s editorial union, which has stayed in contact since the site was sold late last year.
Over the past month, former Mic journalists gained some previously unknown insights into the dire financial state of the company as the NewsGuild, which represented Mic staffers, engaged in exit contract negotiations with Mic management.
On Friday, Mic’s union said contract negotiations with company managers—which were sealed by a non-disclosure agreement—had “confirmed our long-held suspicions that management repeatedly misled their workers during all-hands meetings about the company’s financial state, the surety of deals with distributed media platforms and other factors that culminated in the company’s closure.”
Staffers were also dismayed to learn that although they had been fired, BDG had taken their unfinished work and were repurposing it without input from the original journalists.
On several occasions, BDG-owned Mic has published stories that were previously worked on by former staff.
Last month, the site published two pieces that were started by former Mic staffers, and completed by journalists working for BDG. In both cases, while some original Mic staffers were credited, others were not.
“Since the closure of Mic, it’s become apparent that Mic and Bustle management are in cahoots, repurposing and posting unfinished content produced by laid-off, unionized workers, often without their consent,” the op-ed said.
“These practices MUST stop immediately. We pledge to monitor Bustle.com, as BDG attempts to relaunch Mic from its ashes. And we will call out each and every exploitation of our labor as an anti-union practice. How would you feel if the work you produced was repurposed without a care for the effort and time and intention that went into the original reporting?”
In a statement, a BDG spokesperson said Mic staffers were "notified and agreed to their work being used."
"It is BDG's policy to always credit work appropriately," the spokesperson said.
According to a NewsGuild spokesperson, some of the original authors had been contacted, while others had not.
"All had asked to see the final product before it was published, but that did not happen to our knowledge, as evidenced in the many errors in these pieces that they are publishing," a spokesperson said.
The op-ed also called for better digital media practices in order to prepare for many of the grim realities facing the industry, including sales in which editorial employees are laid off en-masse, and site’s are shuttered, threatening archival of articles.
Mic’s staff called on other digital newsrooms to create clearer policies around employees’ rights’ to their work in the case of a sale or shutdown, as well as prioritizing archiving in case sites shut down. The staffers also called on other newsrooms to unionize, demand “regular transparency,” and “get clarity on newsroom policy around sexual assault and harassment.”
The op-ed note came after the organization tried to appeal to BDG with little success.
In early January, the NewsGuild sent a letter on behalf of Mic staff to Goldberg. But many grew increasingly frustrated when they received no response.
In the letter, the NewsGuild said there was “grave concern from our members about the status of their unfinished stories.” The letter pointed out that there was information that could identify on hard drives sources, and called on BDG to abide by three principles:
- No acquired Mic story should be published by BDG in an unfinished form.
- No acquired Mic story should be "finished" by BDG without the direct input and supervision of the reporters and producers who created it.
- No acquired Mic story should be published by BDG over the original author/creator’s objection.
While many media executives credit Goldberg’s savviness, BDG’s strategy of acquiring defunct websites at bargain prices has provoked some criticism.
Last year, he purchased the digital website Gawker, which had floated in limbo for years after its parent company was bought by Univision following a legal battle with Hulk Hogan. The impending relaunch has irked many of the site’s former staffers, many of whom have been deeply skeptical of the site’s new stewardship.