2021 Media Moves: Buyouts at Hearst Magazines and More

Kathryn Hopkins
·11 min read

The revolving door of the media industry never stops. Here, WWD rounds up some notable moves of late.

Thursday, May 6

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Hearst Buyouts

Hearst Magazines is offering voluntary buyouts to staffers in its advertising sales and marketing division, it was announced Thursday.

WWD understands that the terms on offer include three weeks’ payment for every year of service, while for 2021, bonuses and commission will be paid out for full at 100 percent of the target for eligible staff.

Being part of Hearst, a well-diversified and stable parent company, has enabled us to stand by our employees through the worst of the pandemic by protecting jobs and enhancing benefits. I am so grateful for that,” said Debi Chirichella, president of Hearst Magazines, said in a staff memo. “However, this shift will require some changes to the structure of our magazines business, specifically within our advertising sales, marketing and iCrossing teams. These changes will not affect any editorial positions in the U.S.”

She cautioned that it is possible that involuntary departures may occur later this spring and that more changes are on the horizon in Europe, specifically in the U.K. and the Netherlands, including some reductions in frequency and brand closures.

“Moving forward, our brands around the world will collaborate more closely. Some colleagues in Europe will be impacted by these changes, and — as in the United States — we will offer generous voluntary separation packages whenever possible before the difficult decision to make any involuntary actions,” she added.

Unlike rivals Condé Nast and Meredith Corp., Hearst did not implement layoffs and furloughs amid the worst days of the pandemic. The exception is O, The Oprah Magazine where 59 staffers were laid off, but that’s understood to be due to the magazine’s transition to a quarterly.

Wednesday, April 28

Ebony’s New Editor in Chief

Following its recent relaunch under new ownership, Ebony has tapped Marielle Bobo as editor in chief and senior vice president of programming.

In her new role, Bobo will report to Ebony CEO Michele Ghee and oversee the development of editorial tone, video content, and the brand’s social media cadence across all platforms. At the top of her to do list will be hiring new editorial staffers and launching her first digital cover for Ebony in May.

“As both a seasoned editor and an experienced leader, she stood out to us as a multifaceted dynamo who not only possesses a wealth of proven editorial experience but who also understands the brand and has a definitive vision for its future,” Ghee said.

Bobo is no stranger to Ebony, having previously worked there for over five years as the fashion and beauty director. She has also held leadership roles at Essence and Urban One and most recently, she led editorial direction and strategy for Ayesha Curry’s AC Brands including Curry’s magazine, Sweet July.

“As the assault on Black bodies continues and a global pandemic ravages our communities, making sure the breadth of our stories is told is as important now as it was then,” she said. “I pick up this mantle with a reinforced commitment to continuing that legacy of excellence — providing a safe space for talented Black creators and ushering in a new generation of readers through bold storytelling and impactful experiences that educate, engage and inspire.”

Last year, former NBA player Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman acquired Ebony and Jet magazines, which have chronicled Black life in America for three-quarters of a century, from bankruptcy through his company Bridgeman Sports and Media for a reported $14 million.

Thursday, April 22

Keke Palmer Joins Refinery29’s Unbothered

Vice-owned Refinery29 has tapped Keke Palmer as a creative adviser to its Unbothered vertical, created for and by Black women.

In this newly created role specifically curated with Palmer, she will creatively consult across Unbothered, supporting and co-developing new projects that push conversations and Black culture forward, according to a company release.

“I’m literally too excited about this. I started working with Unbothered years ago as a talent and I just loved how they created a safe space for Black women to share their stories, their experiences, their creativity — and their joy, honey. Because let’s not get it twisted, I’m very joyous…and no one’s going to steal my joy,” said Palmer, who is also the cover face of Unbothered’s first digital cover, photographed by Kanya Iwana.

In addition to Palmer, Unbothered has hired Brooke Obie as deputy director, overseeing the execution of Unbothered’s editorial strategy. Obie most recently served as managing editor at Shadow & Act.

Last year, Christene Barberich stepped down as Refinery29’s top editor after a number of former staffers shared their negative experiences as people of color working at the women’s lifestyle site. In September, she was succeeded by Simone Oliver, who joined from Facebook.

Monday, April 19

Insider Staffers Form Union

The trend of media workers unionizing is certainly showing no signs of slowing down in 2021.

The latest to do so are 300 staffers at Insider (formerly Business Insider), who are forming a union with The NewsGuild of New York.

The group, which represents a mix of journalists and editorial workers across multiple departments, on both web and video, hopes such a move will increase transparency in company decision-making, promote diversity, inclusion and equity in hiring and retention, and “build a collaborative environment that values their contributions and labor.”

“My colleagues and I deserve to have our voices heard and recognized,” said Nico Reyes, a producer at Insider. “We’re uniting to demand a seat at the table to bargain for a fair contract and better workplace. I’m so proud of the work that has been done so far and can’t wait to see where we go from here.”

The Insider Union is one of the largest digital shops to organize with the NewsGuild-CWA. It follows in the footsteps of The New York Times tech workers, the New York Daily News, The New Yorker, NBC News Digital, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times.

“I continue to be inspired by the ongoing commitment of media workers to address the deep challenges of our industry in their workplaces,” said Susan DeCarava, president of The NewsGuild of New York. “As the editorial workers at Insider declared this morning, they organized with the NYGuild to strengthen their newsroom and create an inclusive, safe, and collaborative professional workplace. Today, we all stand proudly and in solidarity with Insider Union.”

Insider is owned by Berlin-based publishing house Axel Springer.

Friday, April 16

Choire Sicha’s New Role

Choire Sicha is stepping down as editor of The New York Times’ Styles desk after nearly four years to take on a new role in the group’s newsletter division.

The Times just announced that Sicha will become a senior editor “charged with a project to help expand our newsletter portfolio” alongside Sam Dolnick, an assistant managing editor, and Adam Pasick, who oversees The Times’ portfolio of newsletters, including The Morning, DealBook and the Coronavirus Briefing.

“Newsletters are the internet’s oldest and newest format, and there is no one better than Choire to help us think through how to use them to form deeper connections with our readers and showcase new voices in ways that meaningfully expand and evolve Times journalism,” it said in a note posted on its web site.

The position of Styles editor is now open.

Monday, April 12

BDG Attempts to Revive Gawker Again

Leah Finnegan has been tapped as editor in chief of Gawker as part of owner Bustle Digital Group’s latest attempt to revive the the historically snarky gossip site.

Finnegan is no stranger to the brand, having been its features editor between 2014 and 2015. Most recently, she was executive editor of The Outline, the Millennial-focused, general interest news site which BDG shuttered in April 2020 in a bid to reduce costs amid the pandemic.

Finnegan, who has also worked at The New York Times, addressed the news, first reported by The New York Times, on Twitter, stating: “The rumours are true.”

BDG acquired Gawker in 2018 for $1.35 million in a bankruptcy court auction and set about brining it back to life with former Details editor in chief Dan Peres at the helm. That didn’t last too long as the effort was killed and Peres and everyone else he hired departed.

A rep. for BDG confirmed that it was relaunching Gawker, but did not provide any further information.

Thursday, April 8

Teen Vogue Has a New Executive Editor

While the search continues for Teen Vogue’s next editor in chief after Condé Nast cut ties with incoming top editor Alexi McCammond, Danielle Kwateng has been named executive editor, taking the helm from Samhita Mukhopadhyay who left last month.

In a post announcing her new position, Kwateng, who has worked at Teen Vogue for two years as the entertainment and culture director, explained why the brand’s social media accounts have been quiet amid the fallout over the appointment of McCammond as top editor in March.

Condé Nast eventually parted ways with McCammond after pressure continued to mount on the publisher over her past racist and homophobic tweets. That included Ulta pausing its current advertising campaign with Teen Vogue that’s said to be worth seven figures, while the Fashion for All Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to create awareness and promote diversity and equality in the fashion industry, called on the publisher to immediately remove McCammond from her position. Earlier, more than 20 members of Teen Vogue’s staff wrote to Condé Nast expressing concerns over McCammond.

“As history has taught us, society has the capacity to evolve. We’ve seen this countless times throughout history with movements, uprisings, and even renaissances. But accountability is a critical part of that growing process. We at Teen Vogue have read your comments and emails and we have seen the pain and frustration caused by resurfaced social media posts,” said Kwateng.

“While our staff continued doing the groundbreaking and progressive work we’re known for, we stopped posting it on social media as we turned inward and had a lot of tough discussions about who we are and what comes next. We’re not perfect, but we do know our place in the media landscape and recognize that our readers make up the DNA of our work.”

In addition to McCammond’s tweets, Newsweek reported that Christine Davitt, a senior social media manager at Teen Vogue, had also made racial slurs online, using the n-word on Twitter twice in 2009 when referring to a friend.

Tuesday, April 6

Refinery29’s New Beauty Editor

Refinery29 is beefing up its beauty offering with the appointment of Sara Tan as beauty director. Tan spent almost seven years at Bustle as senior fashion and beauty editor and has also held roles at Tiger Beat magazine and AOL.

“Refinery29 is known for its genre-defining beauty content which celebrates self-expression, acceptance and innovation,” says Simone Oliver, global editor in chief of Refinery29. “I’m thrilled to continue that legacy with the addition of Sara Tan, who will bring her unique perspective and experience to further Refinery29’s authority in the beauty space.”

Tan’s appointment comes as Refinery29 teams up with Very Good Light, a platform aiming to democratize beauty for all people, for an editorial partnership exploring gender through the lens of beauty.

Last year, Christene Barberich stepped down as Refinery29’s top editor after a number of former staffers shared their negative experiences as people of color working at the women’s lifestyle site. In September, she was succeeded by Oliver, who joined the Vice Media-owned site from Facebook.

Monday, March 29

Bustle Digital Group Announces New Hires

BDG has made two hires in its lifestyle division, comprised of Bustle, Elite Daily, Nylon, Romper and The Zoe Report.

Faith Xue joins as executive beauty director, where she will oversee beauty content across all sites as well as set beauty strategy for the company, while Melissa Dahl comes to the company as executive director of health and wellness, where she will be responsible for building out health coverage. Xue was most recently the editorial director at Byrdie and Dahl was the executive editor of The Cut, New York Magazine’s fashion vertical.

“There is an increasing demand from our readers and advertisers to deepen our coverage within the health, wellness and beauty spaces,” said Emma Rosenblum, BDG’s chief content officer for lifestyle. “Both Melissa and Faith bring extensive experience and knowledge in these categories, and I am excited to see what they bring to each of our sites.”

She previously told WWD that she will be searching for potential acquisitions in the health and wellness or food spaces.

For more, see:

Departures Magazine Is Going Digital First and Will No Longer Be Published by Meredith

EXCLUSIVE: Verizon Media to Launch Yahoo Shops

Alexi McCammond Is No Longer Heading to Teen Vogue

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