Media Rebellion! Why Journalists Are Risking It All to Write Exposés of Their Owners

“We have a moment in time here. It’s sort of the like the MeToo movement,” former Denver Post editor-in-chief Greg Moore tells TheWrap

media rebellion

It’s no secret that American media companies have lost both readership and revenues in recent years — resulting in newsroom layoffs and, in some cases, an increasingly corporatized approach to operations.

And now we’re seeing reports on sometimes questionable media management — from the employees of those very outlets. In recent weeks, writers at Univision, The Denver Post, Newsweek and elsewhere have produced hard-edged exposés of their own shops, detailing accusations of mismanagement, business interference in coverage decisions and the ill effects of an ongoing cycle of layoffs.

“It appears to be a matter of a ‘We’re-likely-screwed-already-so-we’ve-got-nothing-to-lose’ mentality,” Joe Concha, a media reporter for TheHill, told TheWrap. “Many of these reporters and editors are beyond frustrated with the business side dictating the journalism side, while making cuts and layoffs without much regard for the importance of local reporting.”

“So by speaking out, it’s probably half emotion and half a stand on principle,” he said.

On Tuesday, three journalists at Gizmodo Media Group published a lengthy and detailed report which they said revealed deep mismanagement at Univision, which acquired the digital publisher in 2016.

The more than 7,000-word indictment, headlined “Univision Is a F—ing Mess,” was scathing — and welcomed in an embattled newsroom that expects more layoffs following pink slips issued just last month. In April Univision axed more than 150 in a company-wide effort at cost cutting.

“Everyone here is essentially tired of a corporation headquartered hundreds if not thousands of miles away making decisions that will affect our journalism in an existential way,” a Gizmodo media journalist told TheWrap, adding that the hatchet job against Univision had been weeks in the making.

Reps for Univision have yet to respond to multiple requests for comment from TheWrap — and as of late Wednesday had not addressed the story with Gizmodo employees either.

In the last month, editorial staffers at the Denver Post have issued a desperate and public plea for help, describing the state of the paper in the seven years since the hedge fund Alden Global Capital had acquired it.  The newsroom has dropped from more than 250 employees to less than 100 — with much local coverage scaled back as a result.

And this week, editorial page editor Chuck Plunkett said he was forced to resign after publishing too many opinion pieces critical of Alden and the Digital First Media that controls the paper. Reps for The Denver Post did not return requests for comment.

Greg Moore, a former editor-in-chief of the Denver Post who left the company in 2016, said his former paper’s growing public spat with parent company Alden Global Capital was something new in journalism — and a step in the right direction.

“We have a moment in time here. It’s sort of the like the MeToo movement,” he told TheWrap of the Post’s increasingly assertive stance against Alden. “It was really a moment to get out there and make the case about why journalism was important and I actually think that it was missing for a while.”

Post journalists have found support in unlikely corners — including the mayor of Denver. “When management is just not paying attention to the obligations and ideals of journalism, journalists need to find a way to speak up about that,” Moore said.

“It was a primal scream. It was a desperate sort of effort to alert the community of the perilous nature of the paper’s fortunes,” Moore said. “This was a long time in coming. Those cuts have been sort of gradually ramping up … and it got to the point where it was ridiculous and intolerable.”

“Reporters at many of these outlets are stuck between a rock and a hard place: They’re being forced to speak out against their own publications, or risk having their entire bylines and reputations permanently undermined,” Chris Riotta, a former staff writer at Newsweek, told TheWrap, recalling the woes at his own former employer.

At Newsweek, there were almost immediate repercussions when its veteran journalists began reporting on its own management after the Manhattan District Attorney raided the company’s New York headquarters stemmed as part of a long-running fraud probe into whether Newsweek’s parent company had engaged in illegal behavior with Olivet University.

In February, the famously troubled newsmagazine fired editor-in-chief Bob Roe and executive editor Ken Li as well as investigative reporter Celeste Katz over a piece about why the Manhattan District Attorney was investigating the company’s ties to Olivet. A Newsweek spokesperson declined to comment for this story.

“This is the story Newsweek editors and a reporter were fired over,” reads a teaser for the piece — which is still live on Katz’s old author page. She is now working as a senior political correspondent for Glamour.

“If you don’t fight back in many of these chaotic newsrooms, you’re trampled over and forced to produce clickbait,” Riotta said.

“The turmoil is bubbling over into the public space because journalists are beginning to view their own situations as important stories for the public to be aware of,” he added. “Society needs to be aware of the chaos destroying the Fourth Estate.”