The gutting of the AV club is an embarrassment to the industry and a horrific sign of its future

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This week, labor union Onion Inc. announced that the seven Chicago-based employees of pop culture site AV Club would take their severance packages protected by a union contract rather than move to Los Angeles without cost-of-living adjustments. They had been informed months before that their office had moved thousands of miles across the country, and their jobs with it. G/O Media said they were “invited” to move their lives to a new state. The employees, who have 50 years of experience with the company, knew better. “It is simply unreasonable,” reads the union’s statement, “to expect people to uproot their lives for what amounts to a pay cut severe enough to walk into every day. a badly located office for a company making such a decision. Clearly, G/O’s “invitation” was never meant to be accepted. It’s likely, they also wrote, that “those replacing outgoing AV club workers will almost certainly be underpaid as well.”

There are so many things in this news that are utterly heartbreaking. For so long, the AV Club has been a go-to publication, defining and redefining the way cultural commentary and criticism takes shape. You’ll be hard pressed to find a reviewer or jack dealer, myself included, who hasn’t been inspired by it in some way. The site has survived many ebbs and flows of online madness, seemingly remaining a safe harbor in a torrid storm of algorithms. Still, the danger signs became increasingly evident once G/O Media bought the site, along with Gizmodo, Deadspin, Jezebel and more, from Univision in 2019 for a whopping $20.6 million. of dollars.

Old Forbes executive Jim Spanfeller became CEO of G/O Media and the complaints began almost immediately. In October 2019, Deadspin editor Barry Petchesky was fired for refusing to adhere to a directive that the site, known for its unique personality and sharp writers, “stick to sports”. Shortly thereafter, the entire site staff resigned in protest. They went on to found Defector while the remains of Deadspin became a shell obsessed with referencing its former self. On February 4, 2021, the Writers Guild of America East filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that G/O Media told employees they had fired Alex Cranz for union activism. The previous year, the GMG union, which represents G/O media staff, had announced a vote of no confidence in Spanfeller. Last October, G/O Media removed thousands of images from the 11 websites it owns. Writers and editors were not told when or why this would happen.

Whether you’re into this industry or just a fan of his work, it’s increasingly overwhelming to see the same pattern cycle going on. A site with a unique identity and a loyal readership is taken over by a Silicon Valley conglomerate that begins to rave about how much it loves “content.” They don’t want to change anything, no siree, they’re fans too, and they just want the site to look its best, Oprah style. Then the writers start leaving. The particular atmosphere of the site changes. Many more generic list posts and clickbaity titles appear. There are rumors that management ignores union organizers or targets them outright. Job postings are going viral, revealing the jaw-dropping workloads expected of an employee for well below minimum wage. Soon that site you loved looks like a dozen other sites, covering the exact same titles, reviewing fewer niche works, making the same lists of painfully familiar things you won’t believe. And you know it’s not the writers’ fault, but something just isn’t the same. Then the site is gone, shut down, or sold to the next SEO moron.

We know this pattern because it happens all the time. Hell, it’s a disgusting inevitability these days, wondering if any of your sources of income will be bought up by union-busting morons who don’t care the least bit about the work you do or the people who do it. appreciate. It’s annoying to see men in suits with no understanding of the industry burst in, make utterly impossible demands, stifle needed funds, then throw the baby out with the bathwater when their battered new toy doesn’t do of them a billionaire. To quote NPR’s Linda Holmes, ‘It happens again and again: Disrespect the thing, buy the thing, destroy the thing, close the thing.’

It’s weird working in an industry full-time (a rarity considering how many of my colleagues who are much better writers than me are forced to do it part-time due to low pay) where you’re constantly petrified by such inevitabilities. It’s heartbreaking to see incredible talent being forced out of their jobs for making such unreasonable demands that they be paid fairly for their work. Above all, it’s bloody to see these supposed parody figures of innovation throw aside the uniqueness and personality that made so many of these sites adored in the first place. I wrote for a site that many have described as a “content mill” and I know what it’s like for you and your colleagues to do your best to do good and worthwhile work while being bombarded with requests. more and more absurd, and all for a few cents. I spend a lot of time thinking about whether I should prepare my resume in case I have to go back to office work at any time.

Venture capitalists continue to strip our industry for parts, while broken algorithms and outright lies help sink the ship faster in the name of business. It was bad enough when the infamous “pivot to video” nearly killed off large swathes of the internet because Facebook falsified numbers about video’s supposed effectiveness over words. We know people have never counted for this lot, but the endless process of degradation never gets any easier to bear. These crooks went back to business as usual while the writers they messed up tried to cobble together a decent living from six or seven hustles.

I don’t know how we fix this. It’s like we’re all on the terribly slow downward spiral. The onion union has fortunately been able to protect its members’ severance pay, and it will be the union organizers who will continue to fight this cannibalization. If you are a fan of these writers, support them in any way you can. Maybe they have a Patreon or Ko-Fi account you can throw a few pounds at. Share their work and stand in solidarity with unions and workers. These writers are still there. Hopefully their voices will continue to be crucial elements of our cultural conversations.


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Kayleigh is an editor and managing editor for Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter or listen to his podcast, The Hollywood Reading.


Header image source: audiovisual club

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