Univision gets broadsided by staff-written critique of its failed strategy

Not that long ago, Univision was being celebrated by many in the media industry for making a smart expansion into digital, powered by its significant market share in Spanish-language news and entertainment television. It hired dozens of high-profile journalists for its new Fusion division, and acquired what was left of Gawker Media out of bankruptcy. Over the past few months, however, much of that growth has proven to be an illusion, and the company is now slashing budgets wherever it can in an attempt to cut hundreds of millions in costs.

The story has been described in articles by The Wall Street Journal and others, but the most recent piece of analysis has something special going for it–namely, the fact that it was produced by writers from Gizmodo, Deadspin and Splinter, all of which are owned by Univision. It is unrelenting in its criticism of its parent company’s ill-fated expansion, and of the indiscriminate cuts that have come as a result. The tone of the article is set with the headline, which says “Univision is a Fucking Mess,” and it continues in this vein for about 7,500 words:

“We recently spoke to more than two dozen current and former Univision employees from every level of the company, private equity experts, and management consultants, and reviewed a wide range of documents, and the picture that emerged is clear: Despite the debt hanging over Univision’s head, the company indulged a culture of complacency and excess, embodied in many ways by the operations of Fusion Media Group, an ill-fated attempt to stay relevant in the digital age.”

Among the targets of the piece are the Univision executives who spent lavishly on ill-fated ventures like Project Earth, an environmental-reporting unit that apparently spent most of its time producing content related to sharks. But the authors admit there were external pressures as well, including financial pressure from the hedge funds and other investors who took the company private in 2007, as well as pressure caused by Facebook and Google’s increasing dominance of the advertising market combined with the loss of traditional readers and viewers.

In many ways, the Gizmodo piece is part of a trend. Staff at The Denver Post recently signed an open letter decrying what they say is censorship by Alden Global, the hedge fund that controls the paper’s parent company, Digital First Media, after the Post was blocked from running an editorial critical of Alden Global and its management. Tuesday also saw a rally by staffers and supporters at the hedge fund’s New York offices decrying the widespread cuts at the chain.

Here’s more on what’s happening at Univision and the Post:

  • It’s evolution, baby: The Wall Street Journal said in March that Univision was looking at cuts of as much as 35 percent, cuts directed by Boston Consulting Group, which was hired after the company’s initial public offering was shelved. At the time, Univision said it was undergoing a review to ensure it was ” positioned to compete in a media industry that is rapidly evolving.”
  • Executives flee: In the latest in a series of executive departures, Gizmodo Media Group head Raju Narisetti stepped down from his position last month, in part because sources within the company say he was unwilling to make the drastic cuts the company was asking for. Unlike most of the rest of Univision, the Gizmodo media unit is profitable, these sources say.
  • Shaking in shame: CJR has published the editorial that triggered the resignation of Denver Post editorial-page editor Chuck Plunkett, in which the paper criticized owner Alden Global for the cuts it has been making at most of its newspapers. “We must shake our heads in shame and agree with those critics who say our readers are being badly underserved,” the editorial says.
  • Singleton speaks: Media analyst Ken Doctor spoke to Dean Singleton, former owner and publisher of the Post, and Singleton–who had a reputation for cost-cutting during his tenure–said the paper “has been totally gutted of news coverage and of editorial coverage. That’s a fact. Everything I believe about the news business is being violated.”

Other notable stories:

  • Google is rolling out a revamped version of Google News, according to an announcement made at the company’s annual I/O event on Tuesday. The portal will now use artificial intelligence to give readers a curated version of the news based on what it knows about them, and it will aggregate multiple reports into what Google is calling Newscasts.
  • Journalism.co.uk talks with Gwen Martel, the “conversation editor” for De Correspondent, a Dutch news site that crowdfunded its launch in 2013 and is now funded solely by subscriptions. Martel says her job is to invite readers (who the site refers to as “members”) to take part in discussions about things they are knowledgeable about, and also to help journalists find members to interview about the topics they are reporting on.
  • Power Corp., the media giant that owns Montreal’s La Presse newspaper, said if it gets approval from the provincial government in Quebec, it will transfer the 130-year-old paper into a non-profit entity and fund it with $50 million. La Presse stopped printing last year and now publishes daily news solely on the web and through a tablet app.
  • A year after it launched a “straightforward and unsexy” email newsletter, The Christian Science Monitor now has 10,000 paying subscribers, according to the Nieman Journalism Lab. The next step in the magazine’s digital expansion plan is the launch of a paywall, which the Monitor says will pop up after readers have read five articles a month.
  • Corey Hutchins writes in CJR about Dave Krieger, the former editorial-page editor of The Boulder Daily Camera — who was fired after he self-published an editorial critical of the paper’s owner, hedge fund Alden Global Capital–and how he has been trying to get local funders in Boulder to mount a bid to buy the newspaper from Alden.

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