Medium Offers Buyouts to Editorial Employees

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Medium, the website that gives individual writers a platform and in recent years started its own online magazines, offered voluntary buyouts to all of its editorial staff on Tuesday as it announced it was scaling back its journalism.

During a monthly all-hands meeting conducted by videoconference, the staff members were also told that Siobhan O’Connor, the vice president for editorial since 2018, would be leaving the company.

Evan Williams, a Twitter co-founder who started Medium in 2012, explained in a long email to the staff after the meeting that Medium was “making some changes” to its publishing strategy. He said Medium would reduce the budgets of the publications run by the company and redirect resources to supporting independent writers on the platform.

Medium has struggled to find its footing with independent journalism. It began as a blogging platform, allowing anyone to publish, with the goal of building “a new model for media on the internet.” In 2017, the company laid off a third of its workers — 50 people — after Mr. Williams decided to turn away from ad-driven content. In 2019, the company ramped up its own journalism efforts with the introduction of OneZero, a tech and science publication, which was followed by others, including GEN (politics and culture), Elemental (health) and Zora (women of color).

“Our goal was never to replicate the traditional publishing model because we saw the challenges the industry was going through,” Mr. Williams wrote in Tuesday’s email.

He said that Amplify, a program that offered editing and promotion for writers on the platform, had worked well, but that commissioning stories from professional writers for Medium’s publications had been less successful.

“To be clear, we had no illusion these publications were going to pay for themselves in the short term,” he said. “The bet was that we could develop these brands, and they would develop loyal audiences that would grow the overall Medium subscriber base. What’s happened, though, is the Medium subscriber base has continued to grow, while our publications’ audiences haven’t.”

Some staff members wept on the video call, according to two people with knowledge of the meeting, who were not authorized to speak publicly. Employees were told that they did not have to take the buyouts but that their jobs would most likely change if they stayed, the people said.

Those who take the buyouts will receive five months’ salary as a lump sum and six months of health benefits. The fate of the Medium publications was uncertain, with Mr. Williams saying in the email that it would take “a lot more experimentation to figure out what their role is on the platform.”

Less than a month ago, a union drive at Medium failed. The Medium Workers Union fell one vote short of a simple majority of workers needed for union recognition, it said in a statement on March 1.

A Medium spokeswoman said in a statement that the company remained “fully committed to high-quality editorial and to the open platform model that supports independent writers.”

“The voluntary buyout reflects changes we’re making to our editorial team to create a more flexible organization that focuses on both,” the statement read.

The spokeswoman said Medium’s content operation would be led by Jermaine Hall and Scott Lamb after Ms. O’Connor’s departure.

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