Seems like whenever we write about Maven Media Brands, it’s never great news. After the media company took over as publisher of Sports Illustrated last year, numerous prominent reporters and writers left, there were questions about their financial stability, discussions about a further print reduction and a magazine that will feature even less timely stories, and notable missteps from Maven writers, from inaccurate reports to sexual harassment of colleagues.
The SI newsroom initiated a push to unionize in order to improve their working conditions, which was good except that, at the end of March, Maven laid off 9% of its staff, including 6% of Sports Illustrated’s editorial staff. SI had an acrimonious split with respected writer Grant Wahl after he criticized the company. Maven then claimed that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, its financial resources would only allow it to operate through April 31, 2021, unless it receives more funding, which it did in the form of a $5.7 million loan courtesy of the CARES Act. They kept the loan, a move criticized by many as taking money away from small businesses that needed it more during a crisis and who were the intended consumers.
That brings us to this past Friday when, per The Daily Beast, Maven announced during an all-staff meeting that there would be 15-percent salary reductions across the organization as part of cost-saving measures. While that certainly created a negative reaction, the fervor then turned towards Maven’s affiliation with Defense Maven, which also goes by the name Blue Lives Matter. The site, which been in Maven’s media portfolio since 2017, covers law enforcement news with a very obvious pro-police gaze.
Per The Daily Beast, a number of employees called for Maven to de-platform the site while protests draw attention to the myriad instances of police brutality across the country. One sales-based employee also mentioned that some advertisers were less interested in working with Maven due to its association with the site.
The existence of the site was top of mind for many staffers, one of whom noted: “We are not asking for a wide-ranging conversation about diversity right now. We’re asking for you to take that site down and explain why it is still up.”
One staffer noted how a site commenter on Thursday advocated for putting snipers and armed drones in place to target and shoot looters to “set an example for the world to see.” A different employee added: “Blue Lives Matters’s comment sections are full of people calling for the extermination of people like me.”
According to The Daily Beast, Maven founder and CEO James Heckman acknowledged that working with the site was “hurting the company financially,” though he did not initially commit to removing it from their portfolio. According to those on the call, Heckman rebuffed employee concerns by saying Maven’s journalistic mission to promote open dialogue, break down ideological bubbles, and offer different perspectives.
However, during a second company-wide call later that day, Heckman told employees that he would ask for approval from the company board to remove the Blue Lives Matter site from their platform. He also asked employees to send screenshots of hateful or discriminatory messages they had seen on the site.
It sounds as though Heckman and the company wanted to have their cake and eat it too for as long as possible, but employees are trying to push the company forward, at least while it is still able to operate.