The Huffington Post has found its new editor-in-chief, but former New York Times Global Editorial Director Lydia Polgreen is stepping into a newsroom full of disgruntled employees.
Polgreen succeeds Arianna Huffington, who in August left the site she founded to focus on a new startup venture. But the newsroom she’s inheriting is a “miserable place that’s gotten worse” with morale constantly dampened by “poor editorial decisions” and weak leadership. That’s according to one of several employees who were upset before today’s news that management is refusing to negotiate with its union over standard wage increases.
That employee, a staffer of several years who spoke to TheWrap on condition of anonymity, called The Huffington Post an “unhealthy working environment” with a lot of “extremely disgruntled” employees. The source said the company has “zero direction” and a “complete lack of leadership.”
Acclaimed author Perry Brass, who writes for the outlet, told TheWrap that he is “not employed” by the site, “only exploited by them.”
“They are making huge amounts of money off writers like myself, but the hard and fast rule today is you’re either used or ignored,” Brass said.
HuffPost Union issued the following statement to employees on Friday: “In the last bargaining session, HuffPost management offered NO across-the-board raise at all, and indicated it does not intend to bargain over standard pay raises with the union. This is not how collective bargaining works, and it is not something the HuffPost Union is willing to accept.”
HuffPost staffers took to Twitter to express shock at the decision, calling the company’s reluctance to bargain “shameful” and “offensive.”
Senior editor Amanda Duberman wrote, “During a brutal year in news, with a decimated staff, with no editor-in-chief, our newsroom rallied. This is appalling.” Another employee said, “HuffPost makes money writing about greater equality, equity, and social justice. Yet doesn’t practice the values it sells.”
The Huffington Post did not grant TheWrap’s request to speak with Polgreen, saying only that she starts “soon.”
Polgreen inherits a group that was plagued by goodbye emails from colleagues who were either forced out due to layoffs or simply walked out, according to the source.
Earlier this year, the company’s video units — HuffPost Live, HuffPost News, HuffPost Originals and HuffPost Rise — were consolidated. This resulted in layoffs and put an end to the eight hours of live daily video the company produced.
“They’re understaffed. They don’t replace people who are leaving. So how long can that output last? The expectations don’t change when the staff goes down,” another former employee said.
The New York Post‘s Keith Kelly reported earlier this month that Polgreen could also dismantle unspecified lifestyle sites that lose money for the company. AOL, which acquired HuffPost in 2011 for $315 million, is going through layoffs itself — something that doesn’t exactly boost morale.
“The newsroom, which used to be vibrant and totally full is almost empty and morbid. It’s almost like a morgue in there,” the first individual said before observing that leadership roles are being filled with people who aren’t cut out to be leaders.
Last July, AOL parent Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo for $4.8 billion in a still-pending acquisition, so more changes could be coming. Either way, the site that was originally launched as a liberal alternative to Drudge Report could become more balanced, Polgreen suggested earlier this month.
That would represent a major shift from the editorial choices made over the last year, which included HuffPosts’s very public decision to move coverage of Donald Trump’s campaign to its entertainment section, claiming it wouldn’t participate in the legitimization of a “sideshow.”
Denied credentials to Trump events over the decision, the site eventually restored coverage to the politics section with the following editor’s note on every story: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
Political beliefs notwithstanding, Trump clearly wasn’t a “sideshow” and is scheduled to move into the White House on Jan. 20. Despite short-shrifting Trump’s candidacy, HuffPost management has sent memos to employees praising the coverage, a mixed signal when contrasted with Polgreen’s stated post-election worldview.
“I think that the election of Donald Trump and the basic difficulty that the media had in anticipating it tells us something really profound about the echo chamber in which we live, the ways in which journalism has failed to reach beyond its own inner limits,” said the former editorial director at the Times, which has its own rocky history of Trump coverage.
The source believes HuffPost worked to get Hillary Clinton elected, surmising that the site would be a difficult place for those with conservative views to work. Unfortunately for Polgreen, they don’t appear to be the only ones.