On Thursday, dozens of Vox Media staffers took to Twitter to share personal stories about what it’s been like to work at the digital media company.
Reporters, editors, and other staffers wrote in tweets addressed to CEO Jim Bankoff about how proud they were of the work they had done there and how instrumental the company has been in their careers.
But they also wrote about low wages (reporters based in Washington, D.C., getting paid $30,000 a year, for example), salary discrepancies, and being classified as part-timers but essentially doing full-time work without the benefits.
The coordinated campaign, essentially the social media version of a public demonstration, is an effort to draw attention to the ongoing contract negotiations between Vox Media management and the Vox Union, 24 hours before its last scheduled bargaining day. The union is asking for salary minimums, guaranteed raises, and severance packages for laid-off workers.
Vox Media, which is based in Washington, D.C., but employs workers across the country, owns niche, local sites such as the food-focused Eater, real-estate-focused Curbed, and sports-focused SBNation.
In Philly, there’s Eater Philly and Curbed Philly. (The editors of those sites, Rachel Vigoda and Anna Merriman, respectively, were among those who tweeted messages to Bankoff.) And Vox Media’s gaming site Polygon has been run by Philly-based Chris Grant since it launched in 2012.
The social media campaign follows a more private campaign that occurred within the company’s Slack messaging app Monday, where more than 100 staffers shared stories about working conditions in messages addressed to Bankoff, said Samit Sarkar, front page editor of Polygon. Some staffers shared screenshots of their Slack messages Thursday.
Vox Union -- which organized in November 2017 with the Writer’s Guild of America East -- is part of a wave of unionization among digital media companies, despite union membership hovering at historic lows and numerous attacks on organized labor from conservative groups and politicians. HuffPost, Gawker, Vice, and Slate are just a few of the “new media” companies that have unionized in recent years.
And with that wave comes new organizing tactics tailored to fit the strengths of those workers. A campaign like this wouldn’t be effective without the kinds of employees who are adept at building and engaging a digital audience. Buzzfeed Union, which has been fighting for almost four months to get its union recognized, has used similar social media tactics.
(Interestingly, the Washington Post’s labor reporter in 2015 said that it was exactly this quality -- the emphasis on crafting an individual, personal brand -- that explained, in part, why online journalists weren’t organizing.)
The recent wave of digital media companies organizing has tackled another longstanding labor problem: its public-relations failings: union jargon (the “check-off agreements," the acronym-soup names) or its history of corruption, for instance. When reporters are very public about their unionization efforts, it demystifies a process that, as membership numbers have declined, fewer workers understand.