The following letter was signed by 115 members of the Study Hall collective. NWU supports their struggle.
September 5, 2018:
When The Outline launched in late 2016, they promised to be “a new kind of publication” that would, against many odds, find ways to thrive in a near-apocalyptic media landscape. Yesterday, they announced layoffs of their remaining staff writers, as well as members of their non-editorial staff. Six people, a quarter of their staff, were cut. Editors appear to be the only full-time editorial employees remaining. It’s been suggested they plan to also trim their freelance budget, now their only source of content, aside from a potential editorial intern. These layoffs come less than three months after The Outline laid off two staffers, whom founder Josh Topolsky publicly called “underperforming employees,” before apologizing.
This came as a surprise to outsiders, since The Outline raised $5.15 million in a funding round in May, and is valued at over $21 million, which makes it difficult to believe that this was an issue of a lack of finances. Instead, it points to a troubling trend: When venture capitalists, which media companies increasingly rely on to survive, demand profit, it is staff writers and freelancers who pay the price. There would be no Outline (or any publication) without the labor of the editorial staff who shape it, and it’s disheartening to see management dismiss/toss aside their employees so blatantly.
This is why several dozen members of the media worker collective Study Hall will no longer write for The Outline until there are significant changes made at the company.
We are not happy to do this. Many of us have contributed to the site, which has a unique voice and, unlike many publications, pays both decently and promptly, rarities in this industry. But we cannot allow Josh Topolsky and his investors to rely on our loyalty to The Outline’s vision when they choose to devalue writers’ work and treat our ability to survive as externalities. The Outline started with a focus on power, culture, and the future; they’ve since created a workplace culture that doesn’t seem to value the labor that makes the site function, have fallen back on typical power structures, and are building a future we want no part of.
To be clear, this is not an issue we have with The Outline alone. Numerous media organizations have recently displayed a dismaying level of disregard for their writers. Yes, media is a volatile industry, and layoffs are a fact of life. But the emergent, vampiric practice of venture capital and hedge funds laying waste to journalism because they believe writers and editors have no power to resist must end. If this industry wants its content to come from freelancers, it cannot expect us to roll over to their abuses. Through Study Hall and elsewhere, we are building collective power, and the time has come to use it.
115 members of Study Hall, a collective of writers, journalists, and content producers, the likes of which The Outline and virtually every publication depend upon.
To the Editor:
The Times seems to regard the removal of reporters’ bylines from your home page and mobile app (“Where Did the Bylines Go?“, August 22), as purely business decisions. But bylines aren’t just a good idea — they are required by international law.
Article 6(bis) of the Berne Convention, ratified by the U.S. in 1988, recognizes the “moral right” of authors to attribution, and Article 10 requires that “press summaries” mention the names of authors.
The U.S. Copyright Office is currently studyingwhether new legislation is needed to provide an effective remedy for violations of authors’ moral right to attribution.
In the Copyright Office consultation, the National Writers Union and the International Federation of Journalists pointed out that attribution of authorship is key to the assessment of credibility and to the ability of readers to distinguish the work of professional journalists from “fake news”.
But more than a year later, neither the Copyright Office nor Congress have acted. It’s time for the Times, and for Congress, to recognize journalists’ and other writers’ rights to have our names on our work, wherever it appears.