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More of Vox Media’s three-month furloughs have now turned into complete departures. Jason Kirk, a long-time SB Nation college football writer and editor who shifted to the new Banner Society college football site when it launched last fall and was part of the Shutdown Fullcast podcast, and Mike Prada, a long-time SB Nation NBA writer and editor (both were also part of the city hubs while SB Nation was doing that, at the Atlanta and Washington local hubs respectively), were both amongst those initial furloughs (which were set to run from May 1 through July 31). They both announced Friday that they’re now leaving permanently, joining a group that also includes Matt Brown, Natalie Weiner, and Spencer Hall. Later Friday morning, Alex Kirshner and Richard Johnson (both long-time SB Nation college football writers who also moved to Banner Society last year) also announced they were leaving for good, as did SB Nation NFL writer Morgan Moriarty, SB Nation WNBA and women’s college basketball writer Matt Ellentuck, NBA writer Paul Flannery, golf writer Brendan Porath, and soccer writer Zito Madu. Here are the tweets announcing their departures:

It’s not that unexpected that some of these furloughs have turned into buyouts, as it’s pretty tough for people to take no pay for three months (and the discussion around the furloughs also indicated that their jobs weren’t guaranteed to be there after that). And while the furloughs allowed for side projects (Hall, Kirk, Kirshner, and Johnson are all involved in the Sinful Seven: Sci-Fi Western Legends of the NCAA ebook project, along with Tyson Whiting), those aren’t necessarily enough to overcome having no primary work income. And the buyout option is an important one that the union fought hard for, and it will hopefully help these talented writers on their way to finding something new. But seeing yet more prominent SB Nation and Banner Society people leaving raises further concerns for the future of those sites; yes, there are still plenty of notable writers at both sites, but those numbers are continuing to diminish.

And it’s notable that this didn’t have to be this way. First off, the union proposed a different approach of wider pay cuts rather than furloughs, and it’s worth mentioning that work-sharing programs and shared pay cuts have helped preserve jobs at other outlets, including The Los Angeles Times. Beyond that, Vox Media’s overall furloughs hit nine percent of their employees, but those furloughs were heavily focused on sports.  Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff called sports (along with Curbed’s real estate coverage and various cross-network sales, production and events roles) an area “where short-term demand will be lower.” That remains a questionable comment.

Yes, there have been few live sports in the U.S. thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s been lots of sports news to cover around planned restarts and (more recently) athletes’ comments on protests, and that’s to say nothing of the many creative history-focused projects people have launched during this time. There’s also been a larger captive audience than normal thanks to people being stuck at home. And with no subscription costs for Vox’s sites, there are no subscription cancellations to factor in here; if you produce good content on a free-to-read site, there’s no challenge to reading it. Absolutely, there are ongoing revenue challenges for countless media outlets (including Vox) thanks to advertising declines and other wider economic impacts of the pandemic, but the approach of “Eh, we won’t need much sports coverage for a few months” feels overly reductionist and flawed. (And it’s also odd that Vox, which built its entire wider model starting with sports, decided sports was the first thing they could cut when tough times hit.)

And that’s perhaps especially true now that we’re getting closer to sports leagues’ plans to return. At the moment, there’s a whole lot of discussion and analysis of return-to-play plans, from the NBA to the NHL to MLB to college football, and SB Nation and Banner Society are having to cover that with lessened staffing and without a lot of their well-known voices. Banner Society in particular only has four people of the eight on its masthead who are still there (Ryan Nanni, Holly Anderson, Brian Floyd, and Steven Godfrey). And if these returns do actually go as planned, then there will be plenty of live sports to cover, but Vox’s sites will be doing so without a lot of their established people. With more and more of these furloughs turning into permanent exits, SB Nation and Banner Society may not be as prominent destinations for sports coverage going forward.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.