Employees at Maven Media Brands, the U.S. digital-media publisher that owns outlets like Sports Illustrated and Maxim, are calling upon the company to cut ties with a Blue Lives Matter website in its portfolio.
In an all-staff meeting on Friday, Maven announced that it will institute a 15-percent salary reduction across the organization as part of cost-saving measures as a result of the collapse of the digital advertising market following the spread of the coronavirus. While staffers were upset about the latest round of cuts, many raised another concern: The company’s continued affiliation with Defense Maven, a website also known as Blue Lives Matter.
The website has been in Maven’s portfolio since 2017 and covers police-related news almost exclusively from an overtly pro-cop perspective—an angle emphasized by its name, a phrase coined in direct response to the Black Lives Matter movement and often used to undermine or deflect from concerns about police brutality and racial disparities in the criminal-justice system.
During the tense meeting, a number of employees called upon the company to altogether deplatform Blue Lives Matter amid nationwide protests against police brutality, sparked by the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.
In a chat accompanying the virtual meeting, staffers called the website “embarrassing,” “a disgrace,” and “horrible,” saying many of the comments were overtly racist “with no monitoring,” and noting how the site’s loose editorial restrictions allow factually incorrect information to go unchecked.
The existence of the site was top of mind for many staffers, one of whom noted: “We are not asking for a wide-ranging conversation about diversity right now. We’re asking for you to take that site down and explain why it is still up.”
One staffer noted how a site commenter on Thursday advocated for putting snipers and armed drones in place to target and shoot looters to “set an example for the world to see.” A different employee added: “Blue Lives Matters’s comment sections are full of people calling for the extermination of people like me.”
A sales employee suggested that advertisers are less interested in advertising with Maven Media Brands because of its association with the Blue Lives Matter blog (the company’s CEO acknowledged later on Friday that the site was “hurting the company financially,” and that the decision to carry the site or not is ultimately unrelated to its revenue draw). The Maven did not immediately return a request for comment.
“I don’t care whether or not they make us money,” another employee said. “It’s morally wrong to continue platforming a site that advocates for the fascistic oppression of all Americans but especially black people, other POCs, LGBTQ, and the disabled.”
According to people who attended the all-staff calls, Maven’s CEO and founder James Heckman said that while he heard employees’ concerns, he also emphasized the company’s original journalistic mission to promote an open dialogue and break down readers’ ideological bubbles with different perspectives.
During a second meeting about the topic later on Friday, Heckman explained that he started the company with the vision of “trying to get both sides of the table”—including the blog Photography Is Not a Crime, which has documented police brutality, and Blue Lives Matter, which defends the police perspective—and “empowering both sides of hot issues” for “civilized discourse between people with diametrically opposing views.”
The CEO acknowledged that the company has tried to more aggressively moderate its comments, but said that totally banning comments could be “problematic too.”
Ultimately, following confrontational questioning from the staff, Heckman said he would seek approval from the company board to remove Blue Lives Matter from the Maven platform, and asked for employees to submit screenshots of hateful messages on the site.
“I think for sure this is something we have to do,” Heckman said. “I’m going to make that recommendation to the board, I’m sure the board will be supportive.”
Friday’s pay cuts, meanwhile, were just the latest in a series of negative financial announcements for the Maven. In March, Maven announced it would lay off 9 percent of staff across its websites, a move the company said it needed to take amid an estimated $30-million revenue shortfall.