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LAYOFFS AVERTED

Gizmodo Media’s Turmoil Continues: 40+ Staffers Take Buyouts

The company is losing close to 20% of its editorial union staff, but because of negotiated exits, they will avoid layoffs. For now.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

A total of 44 staffers will leave Gizmodo Media Group as part of new budget cuts mandated by the group’s parent company Univision.

Multiple people familiar with the reductions told the Daily Beast that GMG—which includes former Gawker Media sites including Jezebel, Gizmodo, and Deadspin—has accepted buyout requests from 44 staffers across the various sites over the past several weeks. Staffers who leave the site will receive a package including 18 weeks of pay and healthcare coverage.

The departing staff constituted slightly less than 20 percent of GMG editorial union’s bargaining unit, which negotiated the buyout packages.

Among those exiting the company are popular writers and reporters like Alex Pareene, Clio Chang, and J.K. Trotter.

While some staff from almost every site took buyouts, according to several sources familiar, a more significant portion of the company’s video staff, as well employees of the post-Gawker news website Splinter, are set to leave the company.

“These continue to be anxious, difficult days in media,” GMG editorial director Susie Banikarim said to staff on Thursday in an email memo obtained by The Daily Beast. “We are seeing competitors struggle as a result of seemingly arbitrary decisions by outside platforms and we are under constant attack—not just from online trolls but also our own government. But I know of no more meaningful way to meet those attacks and this overall moment than to show up, continue our work and demonstrate that we will not be silenced by the whims of powerful people who don’t want to be held accountable or exposed.”

The buyouts likely helped GMG avoid a messier budget cut down the line, and were the final result of months of negotiations between Univision, GMG, and the representatives of the media group’s editorial union. Multiple sources said enough staffers agreed to leave that GMG will avoid layoffs for the time being.

The Wall Street Journal first reported in March that Univision was mulling a 35% cut to Fusion Media Group—which includes GMG as well as satirical websites The Onion and ClickHole—at the suggestion of an outside consulting firm the company hired to evaluate its business. GMG’s management eventually negotiated a 15-percent budget reduction.

Meanwhile, the company’s editorial union engaged in months of negotiations to secure its buyout package, rejecting management’s initial offer of 14 weeks for full-time GMG employees and 10 weeks for non union staffers.

Some staffers involved in the buyout process expressed exhaustion, sadness, and relief.

“The feeling is deep exhaustion overall cause of how long his dragged out,” one staffer told The Daily Beast. “People wanna get back to work and not have this cloud still over their heads.”

Following a scuttled attempt to go public, Univision has shuffled up its executive board and undertaken broad cost-cutting measures that some media watchers believe is preparation for a potential sale or spinoff of various media properties. The company has laid off staffers at both the Fusion and Univision television stations.

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Over the past several months, the Spanish-language media giant has taken more direct control over some of the FMG properties as top staffers have resigned or been pushed out.

This year alone, GMG CEO Raju Narisetti, Fusion Media Group president Felipe Holguin, and Fusion TV’s president Daniel Eilemberg all stepped down.

GMG employees viewed new leaders like Sameer Deen, who was installed to oversee all of Univision’s digital media assets, with suspicion because of the looming cuts.

During an all-hands meeting earlier this year, a number of staff criticized him for dodging questions about the scope of the impending cuts.

“You’re about to enter a tornado of nightmares," Madeleine Davies, Jezebel’s managing editor said, to laughter in the room. "I think you're beginning to see a picture of how angry everybody is. You said that Univision went into this deal knowing what they were doing. And my challenge to you is prove it. Because literally every initiative has been a disaster. There is no trust in this room for Univision. You have a lot of work ahead of you and it's not your fault, but you have a lot of work ahead of you.”

Deen has been largely absent from the GMG offices in New York since the all hands, and as staff began to leave following the buyout announcements, their new boss was nowhere to be found.

According to a source with knowledge, Deen decided to take a well-timed vacation to Mexico as buyouts were finalized this week.