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Journalists and reproductive rights advocates said Thursday that the loss of Jezebel, the feminist website that covered politics and pop culture for 16 years and whose shuttering was announced by its current owner, would leave the U.S. media landscape without crucial reporting on abortion and other issues.
“The current Jezebel team was doing some of the very best abortion and broader repro/sex/gender reporting in the game,” said Garnet Henderson, a reporter for ReWire. “They deserve better.”
Jim Spanfeller, the CEO of G/O Media, which joined private equity firm Great Hill Partners in 2019 to buy Gizmodo Media Group and its brands, including Jezebel, told the staff that 23 editorial staffers were being laid off and Jezebel would no longer be published because the company was unable to find a new buyer to take it over.
“Unfortunately, our business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel‘s,” Spanfeller told staffers. “And when that became clear, we undertook an expansive search for a new, perhaps better home that might ensure Jezebel a path forward… It is a testament to Jezebel’s heritage and bona fides that so many players engaged us. Still, despite every effort, we could not find [Jezebel] a new home.”
He added that G/O Media has “been operating over the last few quarters with an eye towards efficiency and being budget conscious” and that “economic headwinds” have created challenges for the company.
In recent months, writers and editors at G/O Media’s brands have spoken out against its increased reliance on artificial intelligence (AI) to produce content, with one writer telling Vox the shift was a “disaster for employee morale.”
“This is a not-so-veiled attempt to replace real journalism with machine-generated content,” one journalist added. “G/O’s MO is to make staff do more and more and publish more and more. It has never ceased to be that. This is a company that values quantity over quality.”
Spanfeller also started evaluating writers using algorithms and “scorecards,” rating them based on traffic and engagement.
The changes pushed former Jezebel editor-in-chief Laura Bassett to leave the company in August, when she wrote on social media that “the company that owned us refused to treat my staff with basic human decency.”
On Thursday, Bassett said Jezebel‘s closure would leave the U.S. without several “incredible abortion reporters at a time when the beat couldn’t be more relevant to national politics.”
I’m obviously boiling and have too much to say on this subject. But for now I’ll just say my heart is with the entire Jez staff who just got laid off, including incredible abortion reporters at a time when the beat couldn’t be more relevant to national politics. Please hire them. https://t.co/6ICuNinav9
— Laura Bassett (@LEBassett) November 9, 2023
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, Jezebel has been at the forefront of reporting on attacks on reproductive justice across the U.S., including the prosecution of a 19-year-old Nebraska resident and her mother for procuring and using abortion pills, an Idaho hospital’s shutdown of its labor and delivery unit, a pregnant woman who was forced to wait in a hospital parking lot until her health condition grew dire enough for her to get an abortion, and the stories of women who carried their pregnancies to term because they were unable to get abortion care. Last week the outlet reported on women in Gaza who have been forced to undergo Cesarean sections without anesthesia due to Israel’s blockade and bombardment.
“Jezebel was a light in the darkness and a publication I looked to for incisive coverage on abortion rights and sexual violence up until the last moment,” saidNBC reporter Kat Tenbarge.
Staffers who are represented by the Writers Guild of America-East said in a statement that they were “devastated though hardly surprised at G/O Media and Jim Spanfeller’s inability to run our website and their cruel decision to shutter it.”
“The closure of Jezebel also underscores fundamental flaws in the ad-supported media model where concerns about ‘brand safety’ limit monetizing content about the biggest, most important stories of the day—stories that create huge traffic because people read and share them,” said the writers and editors. “A well-run company would have moved away from an advertising model, but instead they are shuttering the brand entirely because of their strategic and commercial ineptitude.”
As people who have also had their website liquidated overnight by Jim Spanfeller, we send all our solidarity to the Jezebel crew. G/O Media is an enemy of good journalism. https://t.co/65KcDlWfgx
— Discourse Blog (@discourse_blog) November 9, 2023
“Jezebel, one of the last great news sites dedicated to gender and feminist issues, has been destroyed by corporate greed,” said author Ella Dawson. “This is a serious loss.”
Republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).