Gizmodo Media's Clueless New Owners Tell Reporters They Can't Use Encrypted Email Any More

from the wait,-but...-whut? dept

G/O Media is the latest incarnation of Gizmodo Media, after it was sold by Univision to private equity firm Great Hill Partners earlier this year. Univision, of course, acquired "Gizmodo Media" out of the remnants of Gawker Media, after that company was forced into bankruptcy by a bogus lawsuit and a bad court ruling. There had been plenty of indications that the reporters and editors at G/O Media were chaffing under their new bosses (despite Great Hill putting media exec Jim Spanfeller in charge) as they very quickly laid off some of their best reporters, including Kashmir Hill.

Last month there were reports that the staff were "enraged at the new CEO's 'insane' direction" and the details of all that flooded out -- in classic Gawker fashion -- on one of their own sites, Deadspin, which posted a truly incredible piece of journalism entitled This Is How Things Work Now At G/O Media. It's a really damning report. And it's long. It talked a lot about how the new bosses brought in a bunch of old friends (all white men) often replacing (or simply ignoring) women who were already in those jobs. It's full of choice quotes like the following:

The internal reaction to these hires has ranged from confusion to anger. The confusion stems from a lack of communication. For instance, Rogers, who sits in a corner office in New York, still hasn’t been formally announced as a new employee internally or externally, and sources who work in sales say it’s unclear what his job description is, though he evidently has plenty of time to contribute to Forbes, where he posted 14 articles in July. (“The people I work for and the people who report to me know what I do,” Rogers, 63, told Deadspin in an email.)

Forbes is not owned by Great Hill and is a competitor to G/O Media. So, it's kinda weird for your employee, who has an office, but no title or job description, to be contributing to a competitor's site.

Anyway, things got even more bizarre last week. Perhaps, as part of management's anger at the Deadspin article, G/O Media bosses sent around a memo to all staffers that is pretty messed up if you're at all familiar with how media tends to work:

The G/O handbook declares that the company can search employees’ “personal vehicles, parcels, purses, handbags, backpacks, briefcases, lunch boxes,” review all electronic communications made on company property, and disclose those messages to others if the company deems it appropriate. The new rules also strangely allow the company to access reporters’ “tweets” and bars employees from using encrypted email programs—a common tool journalists often use to protect highly confidential sources.

Perhaps most bizarrely, the handbook also establishes an attendance policy and a dress code. Employees must arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., according to the handbook, and are required to wear “smart casual” attire. “Offensive” logos or “sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, biker shorts, Mini-skirts, beach dresses, midriff tops, and halter tops” are all banned.

That's the kind of thing that a really paranoid management who has totally lost control over its employees would demand. It's a "the beatings will continue until morale improves" kind of thing. Most of the stuff is just culturally clueless about how to treat reporters. But the ban on encryption -- obviously to allow management to better snoop on emails -- is positively insane. The company still employs some great investigative reporters, who regularly rely on encrypted emails to protect their sources. Requiring no such thing in a media company is suicidal.

Indeed, one of G/O's excellent reporters, Dell Cameron, has already said the company would need to fire him if they want him to stop using encryption:

Cameron later noted that he heard that the company will "scrub" the "corpolingo bullshit" and no one will be forced to give up encryption. But still. To even send around such a document suggests a pretty profound cluelessness.

Meanwhile, the reporters there are unionized, and the union notes that many of the policies in the handbook obviously contradict their existing contract and are "incompatible with our work."

The big question to me, though, is what the hell did Great Hill Partners and Spanfeller think they were buying in the first place? Didn't they have some understanding of what they were getting? Because, so far, all of these moves suggest they just bought the property without understanding literally anything about it, other than that people had heard of it and it got some traffic.

Filed Under: encryption, journalism
Companies: g/o media, gawker, gizmodo


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Hero, 20 Aug 2019 @ 4:36am

    Employees must arrive between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

    At least that's a pretty big window for arrival time, especially if there are no constraints on when you can leave.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 20 Aug 2019 @ 6:16am

    Oh noes! I just sent our entire financials in clear text! oh well, good thing encryption is banned.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 6:34am

    Go ahead and try to search my car

    I just installed a new "deterrent system", so ya, go ahead.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JdL (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:17am

    There's nothing unreasonable about a dress code

    Especially one that asks women not to show acres of skin. Men, and I'm sure this is a terrible weakness that should be screamed about and condemned, are easily distracted by women who are undressed as if they're ready for sexual intercourse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:48am

      If a woman distracts a man with her outfit, the problem is not the woman — it’s the man who is so easily distracted that he feels the woman should do something about his reaction to her.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:03am

        Re:

        If a woman distracts a man with her outfit, the problem is not the woman — it’s the man who is so easily distracted that he feels the woman should do something about his reaction to her.

        Sexuality is women's only true power over men, and women are teaching men to become immune to that power. This almost qualifies for a Darwin award.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:19am

        Re:

        This is in the fucking Bible.

        Not that I necessarily agree with the Bible on everything, but geez, that broad a base of support for this sentiment and people still fuck it up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:31am

          Re: Re:

          ... what?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Stephen T. Stone (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 10:30am

            You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

            Matthew 5:27-29, New King James Version

            Translation: “If you’re staring at women and thinking about fucking them, that is a personal problem and you need to deal with it.”

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 11:38am

              Re:

              As something spoken by Jesus, it's in interesting contrast to Paul's opinion (not command) that women should never wear jewellery or makeup, should keep their heads covered in public, should dress modestly, and never be in a position of authority over a man.

              Of course, Jesus was speaking to the world at large throughout time, and Paul was speaking to a specific community of people who had somehow decided that their church should double as an orgy center, as led by a particular woman.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 1:17pm

                Re: Re:

                Well said, sir. Sometimes you have to be overly strict with rules to correct a history of bad habits/behavior. That doesn't mean the overly strict rules should be applied universally.

                reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

                • identicon
                  TFG, 20 Aug 2019 @ 3:08pm

                  Re: Re: Re:

                  As ever, context is king. In the broader context, the letter to Timothy addresses some specific issues the church that Timothy was at was having. The direction to women to dress modestly is targeted at problems of vanity, advising they should be more concerned with good deeds than how they look. There's nothing in there about covering up the women to keep the men from being tempted - it's all aimed at keeping up a practice of humility.

                  reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 9:55am

        Re:

        Let's try a little gender switcheroo...

        If a woman is offended by a a man showing his penis, the problem is not the man — it’s the woman who is so easily offended that she feels the man should do something about her reaction to him.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 10:32am

          Re: Re:

          Cool strawman bro.

          No one is calling for allowing nudism as a dress code. The code forbids: "sweatpants, exercise pants, Bermuda shorts, short shorts, biker shorts, Mini-skirts, beach dresses, midriff tops, and halter tops."

          Which of those do you think is equivalent to a man exposing his penis at the office?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 22 Aug 2019 @ 12:17pm

          Re: Re:

          So... are these women actually showing their genitals or are you making a comparison to men wearing speedos?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 22 Aug 2019 @ 3:02pm

          Re: Re:

          Hey brah, breasts and asses are not not genitals!

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:09am

      'Have you no shame, cover your face you temptress!'

      As Stephen notes if you're that easy to 'distract' the problem is not on the woman's side.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:07am

      Re: There's nothing unreasonable about a dress code

      Yes, we can't have those ankles showing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 21 Aug 2019 @ 4:23am

      Re: There's nothing unreasonable about a dress code

      "Men, and I'm sure this is a terrible weakness that should be screamed about and condemned, are easily distracted by women who are undressed as if they're ready for sexual intercourse."

      Responsibility still 100% on the observer. And for the record, the fact that you're associating a state of undress with "readiness to have sexual intercourse" is already a red flag, right there.

      As a man I usually wear, on the beach, a total of One (1) item of clothing, rendering me into a 95% state of nudity. Some men wear even less, abstaining from the tried-and-true trunks.

      Neither I nor any other man has ever been considered "ready for sexual intercourse" just because we're in beachwear. But somehow THAT is the default association that crops up in your head as soon as you see a woman not wearing the western version of a burkha?

      Says more about your view than it does about dress codes, really.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Seegras (profile), 26 Aug 2019 @ 7:50am

      Re: There's nothing unreasonable about a dress code

      You must be US American.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:20am

    Authoritarians

    It is abundantly clear that the new owners were always authoritarians - they think that unmonitored communications are the biggest threat next to those not personally loyal to them - with no regards to their abilities. Not to mention the search measures are obviously misplaces from an industry where physical shrinkage of major ammounts of goods in a small area is a concern and employees are interchangeable commodities. Even if an employee leaked every story they were working on it wouldn't be monotizable.

    The sheer incompetence is mindboggling even by standards of equity buyouts. It doesn't even fit as a "buy out to stop negative coverage" move as the writers can and would move on to elsewhere.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:32am

    Well, this just sounds like a case where some boilerplate was used, but nobody went over it to see if the terms actually applied to the specific company. The union's statement mentions "draft" so maybe this was in progress but someone sent out the wrong draft.

    "all of these moves suggest they just bought the property without understanding literally anything about it"

    Sounds about right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 7:48am

    This is the corpse of Gawker Media, maybe the new owners don't want any of the old ethos remaining. Nick Denton was such a successful leader.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Aug 2019 @ 8:17am

    “The people I work for and the people who report to me know what I do,”

    Apparently, he works for himself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:28am

    Is Peter Thiel behind this? It sounds like something only someone as purely evil and demented as him could proffer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 9:37am

    This is what happens when the money bugs get control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John85851 (profile), 20 Aug 2019 @ 10:08am

    Searches

    So employees' purses, handbags, and cars are subject to searches, but there's no mention of Google Drive or DropBox or any other electronic storage?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Aug 2019 @ 12:11pm

    bemused

    Seems no one has hit on the obvious?

    The goal is to make it fail, and justify shutting it down.

    Of course, shaking down even more from the 'financial backers' may require the occasional phoenix moment…

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 11:32am

    It’s sad to see Techdirt descend into racism

    From the article

    It talked a lot about how the new bosses brought in a bunch of old friends (all white men) often replacing

    For some reason I don’t expect any Techdirt article to ever say the following...

    It talked a lot about how the new bosses brought in a bunch of old friends (all black men) often replacing

    It’s almost as if there were a problem with white men. But surely Techdirt doesn’t believe in that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 12:36pm

      Re: It’s sad to see Techdirt descend into racism

      Wait, wait...

      I know it's here somewhere...

      Yes, I have it! "Diversity is racism!" I found it, the last open square on my card!

      TROLL BINGO!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Aug 2019 @ 2:31pm

      Re:

      When the people they replaced at least partially consisted of people of color and/or women, then the new owners are the racists and TD is calling a duck a duck.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Aug 2019 @ 10:18pm

    That’s terrible.
    “Sees it Gizmodo”
    But hey at least it happened to an asshole lol

    Awareness sticker: I hate that gossip rag for profit so it’s kind of like feeling bad lex Luther slapped the joker. You can’t help but smile even if you don’t want to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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