Mic Network Inc. laid off the entirety of its editorial staff on Thursday morning, only to turn around and sell its spare parts to the Bustle Digital Group a few hours later, effectively putting an end to one of the most dramatic rises and falls of any digital media outlet this century.
Chris Altchek, CEO of the news and opinion site, announced the layoffs to staff at an all-hands meeting in an open space near the kitchen, multiple sources said. In an audio recording of the meeting obtained by HuffPost, an emotional Altchek can be heard pinning the blame squarely on Facebook’s decision to cancel a lucrative deal with the company and larger industry “headwinds.”
“Immediately,” Altchek said, “we have no choice but to give notice to the whole company in order to be in a position to be able to pay severance.”
Almost simultaneously, Mic Publisher Cory Haik sent out an email to staff announcing that she had chosen to resign from her position at the company.
“Journalism is a tough business, and ours, the business of digital journalism, even more difficult. But that is not the legacy of your work at Mic,” Haik wrote in the departure email, which was obtained by HuffPost.
The news came as a surprise to employees across all levels. One Mic staffer told HuffPost that even some supervisors first learned of the layoffs by reading about them on the tech site Recode.
Amid the confusion, multiple staffers said it seemed as if only a half-dozen or so editorial employees would remain at the company. But an internal email sent to the remaining employees Thursday afternoon (and obtained by HuffPost) appeared to include not one “traditional” editorial employee outside of co-founder Jake Horowitz.
When asked Thursday whether Mic had indeed let go of every single editorial employee apart from the site’s co-founder, a spokeswoman replied, “Yes that’s right.”
Later Thursday afternoon, Bustle Digital Group CEO and founder Bryan Goldberg announced in an email that the company had officially agreed to purchase Mic, predicting the 2020 election will be “the most important media event of our lifetime” and saying he hopes to relaunch the site and open up “much needed budget for editorial talent.”
“The acquisition of Mic ― in combination with the great work that we already do each day ― will put us in an incredibly strong position to engage with young readers at a watershed moment,” Goldberg wrote.
Just this September, Mic employed more than 100 people. But on Thursday, only 45 names appeared in the internal email to remaining Mic staffers ― almost all of whom have job titles related to branded content, video, marketing, sales or accounts, per their LinkedIn pages.
The news comes just over a year after more than two dozen newsroom jobs were axed ahead of a planned “pivot to video.” Altchek hoped the precarious move made in August of 2017 would allow Mic to become “the leader in visual journalism,” he said at the time.
That year, the company was valued at $100 million. Reports Thursday suggested the final acquisition price could be less than one-tenth of that.
The site was founded in 2011 as PolicyMic and quickly drew comparisons to BuzzFeed as a news and viral content aggregator. It raised more than $60 million in venture funding over its lifetime, The Wall Street Journal reported in September, but like many other outlets faced an uphill battle to profitability in the digital space.
“Our business models are unsettled, and the macro forces at play are all going through their own states of unrest,” Haik wrote in her departure email.
“If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it’s all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false. Like the truth, it is indeed complicated,” she continued. “I am proud to have been a part of an org that earnestly tried to solve some of these confounding issues.”
Digital media faces stiff competition from tech giants including Facebook and Google, which lap up some 60 percent of online advertising dollars, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. That makes it hard for other sites to compete without locking content behind a paywall, as many legacy outlets including The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal have done.
The New York Daily News slashed half its newsroom over the summer, following about 50 layoffs at Vox Media and more than 1,000 with the publishing giant Meredith earlier in the year. Cuts are also rumored at Condé Nast.
Instability in the industry has led staffers at a growing number of publications ― including HuffPost ― to unionize.
Here is Haik’s email in full:
Today at 10:10 AM
It is with great sadness that I write to you this morning to resign my position as Publisher. It is also with great pride. Journalism is a tough business, and ours, the business of digital journalism, even more difficult. But that is not the legacy of your work at Mic.
It is a privilege to do what we do. It is not to be taken lightly, even in the easiest of circumstances. Telling stories takes an integrity and commitment to something greater. Truth, as they say, is complicated. It is your important charge to get to the closest version of that as you can. I joined Mic three years ago to help this organization do just that. I can say with confidence that every single day, we inched a little closer. When I look at your body of work over the recent months, I am in full awe and so honored.
In this exact moment you may be thinking, rethinking, your professional choices. Please understand that journalism needed, needs your voice. In yours, our, relative short time at Mic, that voice was heard. You made known the struggles and triumphs of people that might otherwise have gone unreported ― and not just through writing or video, but also through product, technology, design, data, social and distribution, brand and communications, development, sales, human resources, finance ― every single person at Mic has contributed to this great mission. That is not to be diminished and will not go away. You have also contributed meaningfully to a journalistic future that considers and will approach topics, stories, subjects with a different care and awareness than before. That is to be admired and celebrated.
What you hear less about the truth is that it is expensive. Our business models are unsettled, and the macro forces at play are all going through their own states of unrest. If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it’s all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false. Like the truth, it is indeed complicated. I am proud to have been a part of an org that earnestly tried to solve some of these confounding issues. And I hope you all take some comfort in knowing that your work will transcend this moment. It’s a rare thing to be able to align your passion and your life’s work. I am grateful that you all allowed me to do that alongside you.
Yours in truth,
And here is Goldberg’s:
The year is almost complete, but we have one more big announcement to make.
We have acquired Mic, and I am pleased to welcome them to the BDG family.
There has been a lot of news about Mic today. They have navigated some tough waters in the last year, and today was an especially difficult one. Our company is in a unique position to create a bright future for Mic. That is our mission. It will not happen overnight, but it starts today.
This deal is timely, as November comes to a close. This midterm election made two things very clear. Young people are voting in dramatically higher numbers than they did four years ago. And the 2020 Election will be the most important media event of our lifetime. Neither of these are unique insights, but they couldn’t be more clear. The acquisition of Mic ― in combination with the great work that we already do each day ― will put us in an incredibly strong position to engage with young readers at a watershed moment.
When we relaunch Mic, the team will get a fresh chance to do their best work. And they will do so with the full support of the technology, marketing, finance, and operations teams that we already have in place at Bustle Digital Group. This is the correct model for 2019 and beyond. It takes tremendous cost burden off of each individual media property, and opens up much needed budget for editorial talent.
Let’s welcome the Mic team to BDG ― I look forward to what we will achieve in 2019.
This story has been updated with more details about the layoffs and sale to Bustle.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the date of Mic’s previous layoffs. They occurred in August 2017, not August of this year.