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Sept. 5, 2017, 1:02 p.m.
Business Models
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Laura Hazard Owen   |   September 5, 2017

In a move to, perhaps, assuage staff concerns that Vox Media will follow companies like MTV News, Mic, and Vocativ in a “pivot to video” (and resulting layoffs), the company on Tuesday published a memo from publisher Melissa Bell about the role of video at the company. She writes:

We do not believe video comes at the cost of our journalism or people with non-video skillsets. Writing is a crucial component of what we want to offer our audiences — as is photography, video, sound, graphics, and illustrations. To do this work, we need different skills across the board — writers and researchers and reporters and visual journalists and video producers and audio producers (not to mention legal help and equipment managers and talent bookers) — all are necessary to our mix. Great videos don’t emerge from the ether, or from a desire to make more money from higher advertising rates. Great videos emerge out of great journalism, a great creative culture, and deep collaboration with creators of many different kinds.

The kicker for Vox Media is that it can actually brag that it does video really well, much better than some of the publishers that are trying to “pivot” to it. It’s nominated for four Emmys this year, putting it in the enviable position of being able to uphold its principles both internally and publicly while also, you know, benefiting from video.

Going unspoken, but also evident here, is the fact that Vox Media has the resources to do all of these things while a more struggling class of online publisher does not. Last week, in her much-read post “On and minority life in startup media,” Meredith Talusan touched on some of this.

Haik has made a persuasive case for how video can not only be more profitable, but a better experience for Mic’s demographic. Of course, the problem with this is that a pivot to video also requires a reapportionment of skills across Mic’s newsroom, which I imagine was the reason why people got laid off, as they did in other organizations. I empathize with those employees, and wish that they could have been given a chance to re-train or demonstrate their skills prior to getting the axe. But I also know that the cut-throat world of digital startups makes it very hard to invest in training for employees  —  who often don’t have time to get trained to begin with — so it’s easier to just hire people who already have the skills companies need. That’s also an industrywide problem, and I don’t have enough experience to evaluate the degree to which unions can help, though I imagine that those employees would be in a better position had Mic been unionized.

What does seem clear is that the idea that digital media companies will be able to hire tons of young, cheap employees who are “good at everything” is not panning out.

If you’re in the mood for some pivot-to-video-criticizing tweet threads, check these out:

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