The first week of June 2020 brought a reckoning for the media industry. As the country protested, and continues to protest, the systemic racism and police brutality that led to the deaths of black Americans — including George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, David McAtee, Nina Pop, and countless others — current and former media staffers called out the racism at their publications. As largely black staff members and other staffers of color share their experiences with racism in media, from pay disparity to unequal treatment to critical management, other outlets have published coverage that has been described as tone-deaf and dangerous. We’ve updated this post as the ongoing conversation has evolved to include sexism and discrimination. Some of the leaders at these companies have resigned or stepped back, including top editors at Bon Appétit, the New York Times, Condé Nast Entertainment, Refinery29, Okayplayer, Variety, and The Philadelphia Inquirer, while other companies are being called on to better their policies. Here’s your guide to the media industry’s ongoing reckoning, listed alphabetically.
Amid ongoing allegations of racism and unequal treatment at Bon Appétit, editor-in-chief Adam Rapoport has resigned. After Rapoport passed on a pitch by Puerto Rican food columnist Illyanna Maisonet, his response to her about wanting more “accessible” food content circulated on Twitter on June 6, along with criticisms of Bon Appétit for letting mostly white editors write about Latinx food. Writer and wine professional Tammie Teclemariam then tweeted a photo on June 8 of Rapoport in brownface for a 2013 Halloween costume, writing, “I do not know why Adam Rapoport simply doesn’t write about Puerto Rican food for @bonappetit himself!!!”
Assistant editor and Test Kitchen cast member Sohla El-Waylly called on Rapoport to resign, writing, “I am angry and disgusted by the photo of Rapoport in brownface” on her Instagram Story. She called his actions part of the “systemic racism that runs rampant within Condé Nast as a whole.” Test Kitchen contributor Priya Krishna called the photo “fucked up, plain and simple” on Twitter. Associate editor and Test Kitchen cast member Christina Chaey revived her dormant Twitter to write, “I am disgusted and humiliated by my editor-in-chief’s actions. It is a disgrace to my colleagues of color who have been doing the real, all-too-often invisible labor.” Other current staff, including research director Joseph Hernandez, criticized Rapoport’s actions, while former photographer Alex Lau tweeted that he left Bon Appétit in part because “white leadership refused to make changes that my BIPOC coworkers and I constantly pushed for.” Rapoport announced his resignation on Instagram on June 8, writing that he had “not championed an inclusive vision” and needed “to allow Bon Appétit to get to a better place.” Healthyish editor Amanda Shapiro will run the magazine in the interim, but told the New York Times she wants a person of color tapped for the permanent position.
Business Insider’s June 9 report on Bon Appétit detailed Rapoport’s discriminatory and demeaning behavior toward staff, including that he would ask his assistant, Ryan Walker-Hartshorn, to work on weekends and denied her a raise just days before his resignation. (Walker-Hartshorn says she is the only black woman at Bon Appétit.) Once, when she asked how Rapoport wanted his coffee, he said, “I don’t know, like Rihanna.” Walker-Hartshorn told Business Insider that Rapoport keeps the photo of him in brownface in his desk, while Rapoport told the outlet over text, “On the record: I was not wearing makeup or face coloring of any sort in that photograph.” He additionally insisted the costume was not brownface over multiple emails to Jezebel, and eventually claimed that his emails, in response to a request for a quote, had been off the record. On June 10, the magazine released a statement responding to Rapoport’s firing, acknowledging that the staff “have been complicit with a culture we don’t agree with and are committed to change.” The magazine said it planned to work with more people of color, focus on marginalized communities, launch new columns, and overhaul current publishing and recipe-development protocols.
Teclemariam resurfaced another instance of racism at Bon Appétit on June 9, tweeting about a Confederate-flag cake that Test Kitchen cast member and drinks editor Alex Delany once posted to his Tumblr. “I’m not posting a screen cap because y’all already know it’s true,” she added, although the cake has since been taken off Tumblr. According to the post, Delany baked the cake for a friend moving to South Carolina. He apologized for the cake on his Instagram Story shortly after it surfaced, explaining that while he was 17 at the time and should have understood that the flag was “a despicable symbol,” “it does not reflect the values that I hold now.” Delany continued, “The significance of the failure is not lost on me,” adding that he would donate his next paycheck to the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. More of Delany’s past discriminatory actions have since come out, including a vine where he says a gay slur and past misogynist tweets. He hasn’t addressed either, but has deleted the vine and his Twitter account. Delany has joined the Test Kitchen in boycotting videos until pay parity is guaranteed for cast members of color, and previously posted to his Instagram Story that he was “disgusted” by Rapoport’s brownface photo.
Former associate editor Alyse Whitney, who spoke to Business Insider about her time at Bon Appétit, tweeted about additional experiences. She called interim editor Shapiro “a huge part of perpetuating the toxic culture at Bon Appétit,” citing that she tried to cut one of Whitney’s interviews on the day of the photo shoot. She added that Andy Baraghani, a senior food editor and Test Kitchen chef, twice “went directly to my editor to try to kill a story based on petty feelings about Antoni Porowski.” The issues at Bon Appétit have proved to be a symptom of the larger issues at Condé Nast.
Former Complex staff member Tiffany Wines posted an open letter on Twitter on June 19, describing “the toxic workplace culture steeped in misogyny, anti-Blackness, favoritism, rape culture, and pay inequity across demographic lines that has thrived for too long.” She called for the resignations of Jay Silim, executive vice president of people and culture, and Arman Walia, senior director of social media. Walia led Wines’s team and treated her as “completely negligible unless an opportunity arose to bully me over Slack,” she wrote. She additionally called for an external review of the social-media team, “without Jay Salim’s involvement.” Salim, she claimed, “protected” Walia after she went to him about Walia’s behavior, adding that “at least five other women” had complained as well, “yet no action was taken beyond a verbal warning.” In addition to those issues, Wines wrote she “never felt safe in the office again” after eating a drug-laced cookie that had been left out, against the company’s drug policy, which eventually caused her to black out.
Other Black women and women of color also spoke out about their experiences following Wines’s post. “Complex is a machine that grinds up Black women for sport,” wrote Kiana Fitzgerald on Twitter. Kerensa Cadenas, a former deputy editor, tweeted, “Rape joke in the bullpen I couldn’t report, 20K less I made than the men in the same position as me, probation period I was put on ‘for not smiling enough’ after being told if everyone worked as hard as I did it would be a better place.” (Cadenas is currently an editor for New York Magazine’s the Cut.) Complex Networks responded to the stories with a statement on June 23. “We believe Complex Networks is a great place to work, but it is by no means perfect,” the company wrote on Twitter. “We have already taken immediate actions to address recent claims, as the first of many steps.” Wines responded by noting that the company “can’t even list ‘colleagues’ before ‘brands.’”
Criticisms of racism at Bon Appétit gave way to larger allegations of inequality at parent company Condé Nast, which led to head of video Matt Duckor’s departure on June 10. Reacting to Rapoport’s brownface photo on June 8, Test Kitchen cast member Sohla El-Waylly said she was not paid for video appearances. “I’ve been pushed in front of video as a display of diversity,” she wrote on an Instagram Story, adding that she was hired to be an assistant editor on a $50,000 salary and was not paid for her video work. “Only the white editors are currently paid for their video appearances.” A Condé Nast spokesperson told Variety the allegation was untrue. Test Kitchen cast member Molly Baz, a senior food editor, wrote on her Instagram Story that she would not appear in more videos until her colleagues of color were compensated, and called on other Test Kitchen chefs to join. Cast members — including Claire Saffitz, Brad Leone, Carla Lalli Music, Andy Baraghani, and Chris Morocco — committed to not shoot new videos until Condé Nast adequately paid cast members of color.
Condé Nast replied on Twitter on June 8, writing, “As a global media company, Condé Nast is dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace. We have a zero-tolerance policy toward discrimination and harassment in any forms.” A later tweet added, “Consistent with that, we go to great lengths to ensure that employees are paid fairly, in accordance with their roles and experience, across the entire company.” This prompted more allegations of pay inequality and inadequate compensation on Twitter, from former staff at brands like Vogue, Pitchfork, and Wired. At a town hall on June 9, Condé Nast CEO Roger Lynch told staff, “I think if people had used the internal channels and raised concerns about this earlier on, we would’ve been able to address them,” according to Daily Beast media reporter Max Tani. Lynch announced the company would study its pay equity and is “accelerating our first ever diversity and inclusion report to be published later this summer.” Later that day, “Page Six” obtained a June 4 letter from Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour to her staff. “We have made mistakes too, publishing images or stories that have been hurtful or intolerant. I take full responsibility for those mistakes,” Wintour wrote. “It can’t be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue, and there are too few of you. I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will — and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward.”
Some have called for Matt Duckor, Condé Nast’s head of programming who oversees Test Kitchen video content, to be fired. Black food journalist Hawa Hassan, who stopped working with Bon Appétit after being paid $400 each for two videos, wrote on her Instagram Story on June 9, “Today is a good day for @mattduckor to step down.” According to Business Insider, Test Kitchen chefs with their own shows have “lucrative” Condé Nast Entertainment contracts, either as freelancers or in addition to their Bon Appétit positions. Also on her Story, Hassan explained that she filmed the two Test Kitchen videos after pitching the show Hawa at Large to focus on African cuisine, which Condé Nast never picked up. On June 8, Duckor wrote on Twitter that he “demand[s] that everyone appearing on camera be compensated accordingly for their work immediately.” Twitter user @noahadamz then tweeted multiple screenshots of past racist and anti-gay comments by Duckor on June 9, writing that “diversity is just a joke to @mattduckor and leadership at @bonappetit and @CondeNast” and calling for Duckor’s resignation. Duckor apologized the same day, tweeting, “My words were inappropriate and hurtful. At the time, I thought I was making a joke — but even my 20-year-old self should have seen that the remarks weren’t remotely funny.” He added that he was “taking the necessary steps to make change” and was “sorry to those I’ve let down.”
An extensive June 9 Business Insider report shed further light on Condé Nast’s issues with pay disparity and diversity. El-Waylly’s current salary is $60,000, she told Business Insider, and she appears in Test Kitchen videos outside her job description and without corresponding pay. On occasions when El-Waylly had asked Rapoport and Duckor for an accurate Condé Nast Entertainment contract, they told her they were working out legal issues. She told Jezebel that she had even shot two series pilots without a Condé Nast Entertainment contract. An hour after she publicized the pay gap on Instagram, Duckor sent her a contract for an additional $20,000 — which she was “insulted and appalled” by, she told Business Insider, citing that other contracts had higher earning potential. Duckor left Condé Nast on June 10, according to Business Insider, after he was previously under investigation at the company. An email from Condé Nast Entertainment president Oren Katzeff, obtained by Business Insider, thanked employees for their “honesty and candor,” with Katzeff writing, “We’ve already started the process of reviewing our practices and over the next week we’ll be bringing forward a plan of action centered on diversity and inclusion.”
A separate incident from the Business Insider story highlighted the Test Kitchen’s exclusivity. After two former editors of color, Nikita Richardson and Alyse Whitney, were talking with Brad Leone and Alex Delany in the test kitchen, Carla Lalli Music, then food director, sent an email to a group of staff — including Richardson, Whitney and Delany — telling them not to visit the test kitchen without permission. (Richardson currently writes for New York Magazine’s the Strategist.) Delany continued to visit the test kitchen without issue after receiving the email, they said. On Twitter on June 10, Lalli Music posted the email and apologized, tweeting, “I am sorry I hurt them. The fact that they felt excluded and others (white males) did not is reflective of BA’s toxic culture writ large.”
As ESPN has been reevaluating its internal diversity and practices, multiple employees spoke to the New York Times about racism at the company. During a recent call when Black employees began to speak about discrimination at ESPN, one announcer, Dave LaMont, criticized the call, according to Maria Taylor, the employee who was speaking at the time. ESPN “addressed it appropriately,” the company told the Times. Some Black employees spoke about a lack of advancement opportunities at ESPN, saying they told younger employees to leave the company to advance. Former SportsCenter anchor Cari Champion told the Times she left in part due to the “borderline harassment” from senior executive Jill Fredrickson, which included “microaggressions and dog whistle words,” such as “subtleties are racism in corporate America.” Black employees also described management’s requests to steer away from coverage of race, an ongoing criticism of the company since former anchor Jemele Hill’s suspension for comments about NFL players kneeling in 2017.
Hearst Magazines president Troy Young resigned July 23 after a New York Times report brought to light alleged discrimination, misogyny, and inappropriate sexual comments. Women who spoke to the Times alleged he once told a staffer at a 2013 holiday party she should have put her fingers inside her so she could ask her date how it smelled. Another story involved him picking up sex toys sent to Cosmopolitan, one of Hearst’s magazines, and telling women around him that he’d “definitely need the bigger one,” referring to the holes. Young told the Times in a statement, “Specific allegations raised by my detractors are either untrue, greatly exaggerated, or taken out of context. The pace of evolving our business and the strength of my commitment is ambitious, and I sincerely regret the toll it has taken on some in our organization.” Specifically regarding the holiday party incident, he added, “Candid conversations about sex defined the Cosmo brand for decades, and those who worked there discussed it openly.” An internal Hearst email on July 23 confirmed Young resigned, according to the Times.
The Los Angeles Times
The Black Caucus of the L.A. Times Guild sent a list of demands to Times publisher Patrick Soon-Shiong on June 22, including increased hiring, more advancement opportunities, and equal pay for Black journalists. The caucus is also asking for a “public apology” and one-on-one meetings between top editors and Black Times journalists. “This is as much a moral imperative, as a financial one,” the caucus wrote. “The Times will not survive without winning over subscribers who are not white, and the only way to do that is to have a diverse and inclusive workforce.” Black former Los Angeles Times employees began sharing their experiences with racism at the company under the Twitter hashtag #BlackAtLAT on June 23. “It is very easy for a Black reporter to disappear at the L.A. Times,” former reporter Jerome Campbell wrote, describing how his editor confused him with another Black staff member. “Black talent has been so hard to retain because of the racism, the disparities in salaries, the misogynoir toward Black women, the homophobia toward queer Black journalists, and the need for diversity instead of inclusion,” wrote Michael Livingston, a former reporter through the paper’s Metpro program for young reporters “with diverse backgrounds or life experiences.” Executive editor Norman Pearlstine met with staff about diversity on June 24, according to a Times story, and was criticized for hiring mostly white editors. “We all saw the river of white people coming into your office,” Esmerelda Bermudez, a staff writer, said during the meeting. In an interview for the paper’s story, Soon-Shiong — who is South African of Chinese descent — said, “This paper has an opportunity to not only address [racism], but address it in ways much more deeply and more inspiring than being accusatory.”
New York Magazine
New York itself has recently addressed criticisms. After the June 8 issue featured a cover image of the George Floyd protests taken by a white photographer, editor-in-chief David Haskell and director of photography Jody Quon responded in a statement. “We hear you. The magazine cover is a powerful platform, and we must pay close attention to whose voice and lens it showcases,” they wrote in a June 7 comment on Quon’s Instagram post of the cover. “We appreciate the criticism. We’ll use it to make a better magazine going forward.”
The Cut suspended beauty-editor-at-large Jane Larkworthy on June 9 for a comment she made on Adam Rapoport’s resurfaced brownface photo, writing, “This was so dead on, I was so afraid of you two that night!!!!!” The comment “does not represent the values of the Cut, and we’re sorry for the pain it has caused, in particular for the Latinx community,” Cut editor-in-chief Stella Bugbee wrote on Twitter. Larkworthy tweeted on June 8 that the comment was “shameful,” and, “What’s even more shameful is that I didn’t approach the people in the photograph at the time and tell them why this was racist.”
The New York Times
New York Times editorial-page editor James Bennet resigned on June 7, after publishing an op-ed widely regarded as dangerous to black people. Deputy editorial-page editor Jim Dao, who oversaw the op-ed, was reassigned to the newsroom. The Times published an online essay by Arkansas senator Tom Cotton titled “Send in the Troops” on June 3, calling for “an overwhelming show of force to disperse, detain, and ultimately deter lawbreakers” during current national protests. After the op-ed’s publication, Times staff members tweeted a variation of “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger,” with other users joining the call.
Bennet had defended the decision to publish the essay on his Twitter, writing, “We understand that many readers find Senator Cotton’s argument painful, even dangerous. We believe that is one reason it requires public scrutiny and debate.” The newspaper eventually decided the op-ed did not meet its editorial standards, and publisher A.G. Sulzberger — who formerly defended the essay — told the newsroom on June 5 that it “should not have been published.” Bennet had been third-in-command at the newspaper, and the widely regarded front-runner for executive editor when Dean Baquet leaves by September 2022. Deputy editorial-page editor Katie Kingsbury will oversee the department through the November 2020 election.
After Oyinkan Oyidia Olojede tweeted about her experiences with discrimination as a Black woman working at the media company OkayAfrica, other women came forward about discrimination at the outlet and parent company Okayplayer, leading CEO and publisher Abiola Oke to resign. Olojede acknowledged that while many current media reckonings focused on racism at predominantly white outlets, Black-led media like Okayplayer “are not exempt” from power dynamics in media, with regard to “the treatment of Black women in particular.” Describing Oke’s behavior, Olojede wrote, “I witnessed and experienced his disdain for women who challenged his leadership, his manipulation, gaslighting and vindictiveness against those he felt personally slighted by.” She described being terminated on August 22, 2019, after refusing to sign a new contract with the company that “paid largely severely under market rate.” The company had told employees on August 20 that if they did not sign the contract within 24 hours, they would be terminated, according to Olojede. After her firing, she wrote that Oke “fabricated stories of my personal background,” including that she did not need the job because her family had five houses. “He made further threats to tell future employers that we were ‘untrustworthy,’” she wrote. “Following termination leadership attempted to block my unemployment by stating that I had voluntarily quit my job despite the evidence against this claim. The attempt failed.”
Former OkayAfrica employee Antoinette Isama tweeted, “Due to Abiola’s continuous meddling in editorial’s affairs, I realized that was the root of me not getting the support I needed to truly thrive the way I envisioned.” She added, “It was clear, according to him, that he could do my job better than me.” Ivie Ani, former Okayplayer music editor, tweeted that the editor-in-chief told her “you weren’t a good editor” during her exit from the company last year, even though her work “received traction, press, and praise from outside of the company.” Other Black women who worked at the site described a lack of support for the editorial team, low and unequal pay, and critical management. On June 23, a group of Black women who formerly worked at Okayplayer and OkayAfrica — including Olojede, Isama, and Ani, along with Olabisi Famakinwa, Hanan Osman, Sinat Giwa, and Winnie Kassa — publicized a letter calling for Oke’s resignation. “His management and leadership style under the guise of pushing Black culture forward has been hindering, unproductive and destructive,” they wrote in the letter. They continued, “We are doing this for us, for you, and the future people who care so deeply about this space to uphold it, and honor it, but if absolutely necessary, will break it down and start anew.” An anonymous woman came to Yagazie Emezi about allegedly being sexually coerced and harassed by Oke and later spoke to Olojede. “He gained access to her personal space, and due to his behavior, she did not feel safe refusing him sex,” after he’d previously “verbally abused” her and “she tried to make him stop,” according to Emezi.
The company announced Oke’s resignation on June 24, writing, “We take the allegations that have surfaced very seriously, and we stand with the brave women who came forward.” Okayplayer added it would have an outside review of compant practices. Questlove, a founder of the site, wrote, “This was long overdue” with the announcement. Oke responded with a Twitter statement on June 25, writing, “I am coming to understand and be accountable for my insensitivities and my lack of awareness of the privilege I have as a Black man being supported by Black women.” He also denied “perpetrating sexual assault” and making “sexual advances to any woman in the company.” On June 26, the signatories of the previous letter published a new letter addressing Okayplayer owners Stephen and Sam Handel, writing, “We are deeply saddened and disturbed by the fact that the decision to remove Abiola Oke from a position of power only occurred after a woman … came forward to share her story of targeting, coercion, and assault by him.” The women asked in the letter “to take part in all aspects of rebuilding the brands” of Okayplayer and OkayAfrica, along with compensation for lost paid time off, severance packages for those “wrongfully terminated or coerced to resign,” and an apology from the company “for failing to provide a safe work environment for Black women.”
Former culture editor Michael Love Michael publicized their resignation from Paper magazine, where they had been one of two black staff members, on June 2. According to screenshots Michael tweeted, they sent an email about their departure in reply to a company email committing to “using our voice to help bring awareness and change to a system that continues to violate the rights of people of color.” Michael replied, “Seeing this call now to be sensitive to Black people, is woefully late for me, the last Black editor you had,” calling the company’s message “performative at best and hypocritical at worst,” given the company’s treatment of black staff. Michael added, “I’ve fought extremely hard for equal treatment. I have felt sidelined almost every time.”
After Tom Florio, the CEO of Paper owner ENTtech, exchanged emails with Michael, Florio wrote, “I do not agree with your assessment of your position at Paper.” He added, “We asked you why you were leaving and you told us it was personal. We respected your position. To insinuate that this was a race issue is disingenuous.” The Paper Twitter account replied to Michael’s tweet on June 3: “I’m the Black social media editor MLM mentioned and I absolutely stand with them. Nobody here fucks w what the CEO said.”
Florio responded to Michael via Paper’s Twitter on June 4, writing, “This week I gained a lesson in my own failures of communication and yes, self-awareness.” He added in a later tweet, “I owe it to [Michael] and all of you to make sure every member of our team, from every background, feels valued and appreciated — not just with words but with actions. I am currently working on that in collaboration with the PAPER team.” According to a staff statement to WWD on June 4, Paper will slow its general output, focusing efforts on protest and racial-justice news until management can “address the systemic racism” at the company. Michael has been sharing statements about racism from other former Paper staff of color on their Twitter.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
In response to a widely criticized decision to print a story with the headline “Buildings Matter, Too,” Philadelphia Inquirer executive editor Stan Wischnowski resigned from the newspaper on June 6. The column by architecture critic Inga Saffron appeared in the June 2 issue. The paper apologized on June 3, writing, “The headline offensively riffed on the Black Lives Matter movement, and suggested an equivalence between the loss of buildings and the lives of black Americans. That is unacceptable.” The same day as the apology, Inquirer journalists of color published a letter to the paper’s leadership, writing, “We’re tired of shouldering the burden of dragging this 200-year-old institution kicking and screaming into a more equitable age.” Dozens called in “sick and tired” on June 4, after 44 staff members signed the letter. Saffron also apologized for the “unfortunate headline” on June 4, tweeting, “I am deeply sorry for the trauma it caused black people in Philly, and my black and brown newsroom colleagues.”
Pitchfork staff, specifically the music publication’s union, are fighting to keep parent company Condé Nast from laying off lists editor Stacey Anderson, the website’s only senior editor of color and the union’s current unit chair. The site’s union employees stopped working for half a day on June 18, neglecting to publish or promote any content from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. The union wrote in a statement that it has “yet to receive a response” after presenting a work-sharing program that would keep Anderson’s job “while achieving their target savings for this year — within three months!” Anderson would be the second layoff of a senior editor of color in less than 18 months, after Pitchfork laid off Timmhotep Aku, who developed the site’s now-shuttered hip-hop vertical Levels. The Pitchfork union has also asked leadership and Condé Nast to guarantee that 50 percent of those interviewed for positions will come from “underrepresented backgrounds.” According to the union statement, “Condé Nast and Pitchfork counsel rejected our proposal because ‘for certain positions it’s hard to find qualified applicants from underrepresented backgrounds’ and ‘not every job is created equal.’” “We condemn these racist statements,” the Pitchfork union added. Condé Nast previously tweeted in early June, “As a global media company, Condé Nast is dedicated to creating a diverse, inclusive and equitable workplace.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The staff pushed back at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where a black reporter was banned from covering protests. On May 31, Alexis Johnson tweeted photos from a Pittsburgh Kenny Chesney concert, comparing the trash-strewn parking lot to looting during current protests. Three editors, including the managing editor, met with her the following day, telling her she couldn’t cover the protests after she sent them multiple story pitches. “They kept doubling down, saying I gave my opinion through the tweet,” Johnson told NPR. The newspaper also told a black photographer, Pulitzer winner Michael Santiago, that he could not cover the protests when he tweeted in support of Johnson shortly afterward. Joshua Axelrod, who reported on a looting suspect and called the man “a vulgar slang word” in a since-deleted tweet, per NPR, was also confronted by editors about his tweets. But he was allowed to keep covering protests — until the Newspaper Guild of Pittsburgh, the paper’s union, pointed out the discrepancy, and the paper banned Axelrod as well. After reporters tweeted with the hashtag #IStandWithAlexis, the paper began to remove its own stories on the protests. The Newspaper Guild filed a grievance arguing that Johnson “was disciplined without just cause.”
The Newspaper Guild issued a statement on June 9, saying that the paper had offered Johnson two chances to cover George Floyd’s memorial without notifying her if her coverage ban was lifted. The first, to fly to Houston, came on 16 hours’ notice and from a black assistant managing editor Johnson had never worked with before. The second, to cover the memorial virtually, came the next day and from the morning news editor. She turned down both, given the uncertainty of her ban. Executive editor Keith Burris published a column on June 10 claiming, “Editors at this newspaper did not single out a black reporter and a black photographer and ban them from covering Pittsburgh protests after the killing of George Floyd.” Burris added, “One person was not assigned a story because of the suggestion of bias,” and confirmed the 80-plus Post-Gazette journalists who retweeted or posted their support for the tweet were also disqualified from protest coverage. He wrote that the company was “upholding professional standards,” and that “we believe we too stand with Alexis Johnson.” In response Johnson wrote, “The open letter was dismissive, insensitive, and worst of all — dehumanizing.”
Black former Refinery29 employees shared their experiences with racism at the website using the hashtag #BlackAtR29, eventually leading editor-in-chief and co-founder Christene Barberich to resign on June 8. Employees began to come forward on June 2, when Refinery29 blacked out its site in support of Blackout Tuesday. “Cool blacked out homepage!” Ashley Alese Edwards tweeted. “But you know what real allyship looks like? Paying your Black employees fairly, having Black women in top leadership positions & addressing the microaggressions your Black employees deal with from management on a daily basis.” Employees began using #BlackAtR29 to talk about pay gaps, a lack of opportunities for advancement, critical management, microaggressions, and overall tokenization at Refinery29. The website made a statement on June 5, writing, “We are, and have always been, a company and a brand that seeks to hold ourselves accountable as we elevate underrepresented voices,” according to WWD. By June 8, Barberich announced her resignation on Instagram, a decision supported by Refinery29’s union. “I’ve read and taken in the raw and personal accounts of Black women and women of color regarding their experiences inside our company at Refinery29,” she wrote. “And, what’s clear from these experiences, is that R29 has to change.” Vice CEO Nancy Dubuc told staff in a June 8 email that Barberich’s departure was “an acceleration of a conversation Christene and I have been having since Vice’s acquisition of R29,” according to the New York Times. She promised Refinery29 and Vice staffs that the company would change hiring and retention to “ensure equal opportunity and an inclusive culture.” On June 11, Refinery29 issued a statement saying that “Black and WOC independent investigators” would look into the company’s “toxic culture” and that they would analyze their pay equity “this summer.”
On Thursday, July 2 Amy Emmerich stepped down as Refinery29’s president and chief content officer. In an email to staff, Emmerich wrote, “After careful consideration, I have decided to move on from Refinery29. I’ve always fought for space so this amazing team can create unencumbered. I make this decision now so you can continue to do that. Now is a time for change, reflection and growth both for me personally and for us all as we move forward. The stories we’ve told, and that you will continue to tell, matter more than ever and I’m truly grateful to have been part of building a platform and business that spotlighted underreported stories and amplified unheard voices.”
The R29 union tweeted a statement in support of Emmerich’s resignation. “We’re pleased that our June 11 letter to VMG management asking for Amy Emmerich’s resignation was finally addressed. We’re looking forward to working with new leadership who’s experienced in overseeing a diverse @refintery29 newsroom committed to serving a diverse audience.
Multiple former employees of Remezcla, the Latinx culture site, described workplace sexism and abuse, mainly by CEO Andrew Herrera, in a report by Jezebel. Former staff described ulcers and hair loss as effects of being overworked and criticized by Herrera, even starting therapy after their time at Remezcla. Co-founders Claire Frisbie and Nuria Net (who are no longer named on the site’s “About Us” page) described working overtime without set salaries as they waited to be paid by Herrera, who helped finance the site. Frisbie additionally said she found out that Herrera had been checking her personal email account, after she once checked it while using his computer. “First he denied it, and then he said, ‘Do you know how hurtful it was for me to read those things you said about me?’” she told Jezebel, adding that he said he did it “out of love.” Herrera told Jezebel it did not happen. Other former employees described a lack of clear supervision, critical management, and overworking. According to employees, Herrera told one woman to act “less like a gringa and more like a Latina,” while a Glassdoor review says, “He constantly makes derogatory comments about his female employees’ weight and physical appearance.” Herrera apologized to Jezebel for a specific instance when he said “that a very thin employee needed to eat.” Herrera told Jezebel he takes “responsibility for anyone, male or female, who did not receive a clear job description, a helpful response to their work, or good coaching.”
Eduardo Cepeda, the site’s executive editor and head of music, responded on Twitter on June 26 after being mentioned in Jezebel’s story as “a friend of Herrera’s” who got a position that had been rescinded from Alex Zaragoza after she asked for a higher salary. “As a man, it was my duty to use my privilege to support, uplift, champion and be an ally to women,” he wrote. “I failed these women.” He added, “I am committed to making sure I do everything in my power to foster the kind of work environment that is conducive to people thriving,” and that he would work “to dismantle any toxicity both within the company and within myself.” On July 7, nearly two weeks after Jezebel’s report, a group of current and former Remezcla employees published a letter calling for Herrera’s and Cepeda’s resignations, along with the release of former employees from NDAs and a review of the company. They outlined further allegations that Cepeda had “gaslit” employees and neglected work responsibilities, claiming that “Remezcla has a serious toxicity problem from its male leaders.” Herrera said in a statement on July 8 that Cepeda had stepped down, but he himself would “commit to stepping up as a leader” and pursue leadership coaching. Addressing the women who spoke out about his leadership to Jezebel, he wrote, “I am deeply sorry for their experience.” He also alluded to a “new ownership structure,” an editorial committee, and increased transparency.
A podcast episode by The Ringer’s founder and CEO, Bill Simmons, has led to staff criticism of diversity at the outlet. On a June 1 episode about protests against systemic racism, Ringer podcaster Ryen Russillo praised Simmons for “the jobs and the opportunities that you’ve given a diverse group.” As The Ringer’s union has noted, six editorial staffers out of 90 total employees are Black. On June 1, the union said that 86% of last year’s Ringer podcast speakers were white and that there were no Black editors or staff writers covering the NBA or NFL for the sports and culture site. (A Black writer, Kaelen Jones, will join to cover the NFL in July.) As employees described a culture of exclusivity around podcasting at The Ringer, Simmons told the Times, “It’s a business. This isn’t Open Mic Night.” Dave Schilling, who previously cohosted The Ringer Wrestling Podcast for free, wrote that he was eventually barred from freelancing for The Ringer after he was later let go from a job at WWE. “Maybe Bill Simmons has a problem with me personally. Maybe someone else in that company does, which wouldn’t shock me,” he tweeted. “All I know is that even at Grantland, I felt like I wasn’t taken seriously/patronized by half the staff.” The Ringer’s union has asked for 50% of those considered for interviews at the company to come from underrepresented backgrounds and is discussing the proposal with the company in the coming days, according to the Times.
In a June 3 column, editor-in-chief Claudia Eller wrote that she had “NOT DONE ENOUGH” to diversify Variety’s newsroom. After Eller published her column, Piya Sinha-Roy tweeted, “I remember speaking with you and [Variety president Andrew Wallenstein] years ago about the lack of diversity in your newsroom. POC voices are constantly dismissed.” Eller defended herself, replying, “When someone cops to something why would you try to criticize them? You sound really bitter.” The two continued to exchange messages on Twitter, and when Sinha-Roy tweeted, “Calling me bitter because I said this issue has been long-standing in your newsroom is frustrating,” Eller insisted, “That’s not what I was referring to.” Shortly after the tweets, it was announced Eller would be taking a two-month leave from the company. Deadline reported Eller’s two-month leave on June 4, with business editor Cynthia Littleton leading Variety in the interim.
The Washington Post
The same day its own high-profile scandal culminated in a resignation, the New York Times dropped a bombshell report detailing the racism that prompted Pulitzer winner Wesley Lowery to leave the Washington Post. Executive editor Marty Baron had taken issue with social-media posts by Lowery, a black journalist who became a breakout reporter during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri. In September 2019, Baron gave Lowery a memo claiming he was “failing to perform [his] job duties by engaging in conduct on social media that violates the Washington Post’s policy and damages our journalistic integrity,” and threatening to fire Lowery if his social-media use continued. Lowery replied to the memo point by point, writing that he was engaging in “debate about a topic I cover directly — race and racism in America.” Lowery joined the 60 Minutes Quibi spinoff 60 in 6 in late January, leaving the Post. Around the same time, Baron had suspended Post reporter Felicia Sonmez for tweeting about the sexual-assault allegations against Kobe Bryant in the wake of his death.