Tomorrow, Fear the Fin, along with a number of SB Nation NHL sites, will be participating in a publishing blackout in reaction to a decision made earlier this week by Vox Media management regarding the future of SBN team sites covering teams in California. If you haven’t heard about this, please see the announcement that was posted Monday, as well as a response about how this impacts the future of Fear the Fin here. This decision will fundamentally change three of our SBN NHL communities — Fear the Fin, Jewels from the Crown, and Anaheim Calling — and holds significant implications for the other 28 team sites as well.
We are very disturbed and concerned by two separate, yet related, issues that arose as a result of this decision. First, the decision to cut loose the entire writing staffs of 25 SB Nation team sites was a complete surprise to everyone impacted. It dropped out of the clear blue sky with no warning and minimal contact from SB Nation management prior to being made public. The fact that it happened a week and a half prior to Christmas makes it even more difficult to accept.
The California law that prompted this decision was enacted on September 18, yet the affected writers had no knowledge that their contracts with Vox Media were at risk until they were told that the contracts were being terminated, nearly three months later.
SBN management has stated that part- and full-time positions, which are now posted, will be used to replace the current contractor positions that will no longer be available as a result of the new California law. While current contractors have been invited to apply for these newly-created positions, the reality is that many of the writers affected by this decision have little to no interest in traditional employment with the requisite expectations on time and commitments that employment entails. Many of us have existing jobs and careers that we work our SBN commitments around. While it isn’t by any means a perfect scenario, it works for a good number of our writers, and it’s heartbreaking that so many good writers are being sacrificed outright as the result of an ill-conceived law and ill-conceived decisions resulting from that law.
Not only will writers based in California no longer be able to contract independently with SB Nation — for coverage of any team, not just those based in the state — but writers anywhere may no longer contract to write for a site that covers a team based in California. The only choices are full employment, if hired, or serving as an unpaid contributor. Neither of those options is workable for a majority of SBN NHL’s contributors.
That leads to the second concern: SB Nation team sites occupy a unique niche in the landscape of sports journalism. We are solely focused on our teams, and provide coverage of those teams that outsiders who may not understand the culture and the community surrounding the teams would struggle to replicate. While newly-hired SBN employees will take over posting on the existing sites, they will be tasked with covering multiple teams and multiple sports, and it stands to reason that coverage of those teams will suffer as a result.
This is not unique to SB Nation. News organizations around the country are attempting to do more with less as well. Nearly everyone reading this can identify a newspaper, if not more than one, that features centralized content, producing “real-time news” from a central hub that does not reflect the individual quirks and deep understanding of the communities that publication ostensibly serves. It does not serve readers well, and we are concerned that the same fate could easily befall SB Nation. We don’t want that to happen.
Anyone who has ever worked in a corporation can attest that two different sets of rules cannot coexist indefinitely. At some point, the decision will likely be made to apply the new operating template, for now exclusive to California, to all SBN sites, across all sports. Despite us asking management if there is a timeline for that to happen, we have heard nothing, so we have no idea when these changes will be applied across the board. And, if the experience of the California sites is any indication, we will likely get minimal notification when they are.
We will return on Tuesday with the usual coverage, analysis, opinion and more that you’ve come to expect from us. In the meantime, we implore SB Nation management to find a way forward that respects the new California law while also serving our readers in the way only our sites can, and at the same time preparing for a sustainable future that allows for our communities to remain vibrant and relevant.
We truly appreciate your understanding about the action we are taking today. SB Nation NHL remains committed to the best coverage of every team in the National Hockey League, and your support and continued patronage of our sites enables us to continue this labor of love. You have our word and our commitment that our dedication to our readers will never waver. Thank you again, and we wish you a very happy holiday season!