‘PANICKED’

Gizmodo Staff Torches New Univision Exec in Private Meeting: ‘You’re About to Enter a Tornado of Nightmares’

Sameer Deen, who now oversees Gizmodo Media Group, took nearly 90 minutes of criticism from staff concerned about the company’s looming budget cuts.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

Univision’s head of digital media received a frosty welcome during his first meeting with Gizmodo Media Group, the digital media company that includes Gizmodo, Jezebel, Deadspin, and others.

The Daily Beast obtained a recording of the roughly 90-minute all-hands meeting on Tuesday afternoon, in which staff expressed exasperation at Univision executive Sameer Deen’s inability to offer concrete answers about GMG’s financial future.

“You’re talking to a room full of people who have been through a lot of bullshit through a lot of years,” Kotaku editor Stephen Totilo quipped, a reference to Gawker’s high-profile legal battle with wrestler Hulk Hogan. “We kind of thought we were done with it, so it’s frustrating to be back. If it's not the Florida jury, it's the Florida management.”

Univision recently tapped Deen—the manager of Univision’s own website—to oversee the entire company’s digital-media assets. This includes the former Gawker Media properties, the Fusion cable channel, and The Onion, among others.

The Wall Street Journal reported in March that Univision had hired outside consulting firm Boston Consulting Group in the wake of its failed initial public offering. The consultants advised Univision to cut up to 35% of the budget—a statistic that alarmed staff at many levels of the company.

In the past several weeks, top managers including GMG CEO Raju Narisetti, Fusion Media Group president Felipe Holguin, and Fusion TV’s president Daniel Eilemberg left the company, ceding several top Univision executives more direct control over the Gizmodo brands under Fusion Media Group umbrella.

During Tuesday’s meeting—Deen’s first-ever with staff—the new boss offered some details about the company’s immediate financial future.

According to Deen, the outside consultants evaluating Univision’s business would continue to examine the company’s finances for another “5-6 weeks,” and would complete their review in ten weeks. Although he did not specify what areas the company hoped to cut, Deen said Univision was examining which areas met their “benchmarks,” including growing audiences and monetization.

Deen largely steered clear of statistics, pleading employees not to trust any financial numbers reported in media outlets, and disclosing that that Fusion Media Group was not profitable.

Though he would not totally dismiss the 35% cut figure—a point of serious contention during the meeting—Deen did tell staff that the company had attempted to convince the Journal that the 35% budget reduction was inaccurate.

“Univision cares about all of its business, and it cares about all the contributors to that businesses,” Deen said. “I understand that it’s causing uncertainty. And as soon as I have more information to share, I will.”

Still, Deen’s answers did not satisfy the staff.

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At different points throughout the meeting, staffers would implore the Univision executive to give yes or no answers to questions about the company’s financial situation, rather than hedging.

Managers themselves seemed particularly frustrated with Deen’s answers.

One staffer lamented that GMG management was being kept in the dark, and several asked what they should tell panicked staffers who had begun seeking other jobs.

“It doesn’t seem like Univision understands what we do, but frankly in a lot of cases, has any interest in understanding what we do,” Deadspin’s editor in chief Megan Greenwell said.

Madeleine Davies, Jezebel’s managing editor, said her site had been “hobbled” for months by staffing issues, and said she was concerned that her reporters would jump ship if there was continued uncertainty.

“You’re about to enter a tornado of nightmares," she 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.”

Though Deen repeatedly assured staff he understood their frustration with Univision, some employees left the meeting deeply unsatisfied.

“I’m a lot more panicked now that I was about an hour ago,” one staffer said, eliciting some laughter. “Hearing that we’re reevaluating the business when I thought there were going to be some sort of concrete answers today has not been very nerve-easing.”

“I have no idea if you’re going to come in and cut half the company and turn us into an e-commerce,” the staffer jabbed. “And this has not been very useful.”

In a statement to The Daily Beast, the GMG union said members "went to the all-hands meeting with Sameer expecting more clarity on the changes at Univision, and unfortunately we got very little."

However, the union also struck a hopeful tone: “We expect that our communication with management will improve as Sameer gets his bearings in his new position.”

GMG spokesperson David Ford acknowledged that the meeting was difficult, but said the company valued "open and honest dialogue—even when it isn’t comfortable."

“Sameer came to listen to the staff, to hear their concerns, and answer questions as best he could at this time,” Ford said in an email. “Our digital media brands are an important part of UCI’s evolution as a company and diversification strategy, and they will continue to be moving forward. Right now the company is focused on ensuring they are positioned to grow, adapt, and compete in a rapidly-changing media landscape.”