Monday morning Nick Denton announced that for the first time ever, Gawker Media writers would have the opportunity to become full-time employees instead of freelancers. Ostensibly good news in this wintery publishing climate, where benefits like health insurance (and even unemployment) are a thing of the past. Sheila McClear, a former Gawker editor who successfully went to court to get unemployment from Gawker told Fishbowl “I congratulate them for going legit.” Sheila is speaking of course, about the common practice for blogs (and most other media these days) to use use freelancers and permalancers in editorial roles so as not to have to dole out benefits or pay the 15% tax for full-time employees.
Many are speculating why Denton finally made the switch: certainly it doesn’t help him financially to pay writers as full-time employees, but it does make an appealing draw to Gawker for heavy-hitting journalists who may not have been willing to work under the previous conditions. Also speculated is that having full-time employees filed under 1099 status is technically illegal, and Denton may have finally gotten in some hot water with the IRS over unpaid taxes. We reached out to Gawker Media and asked them exactly what the terms and conditions of for the new W2 employees are.
In terms of benefits, Gawker Media COO Gaby Darbyshire told us that full-time writers will now be given Oxford health insurance with Gawker paying the full premium, as well as “typical employee benefits — optional HSA/dental/vision, life insurance, statutory insurances, some corporate discounts (e.g. ATT, MTA), paid vacation, paid bank holidays.”
But writers aren’t the only staffers at Gawker, and we wondered if other employees (sales, marketing, IT) had been receiving these benefits all along. There has been “a mix” in all departments, said Darbyshire, “depending on the specific role.” Our sources tell us that editorial staffers were typically not among the full-time employees at the company, although some managing editors of the sites have been given the option.
If anyone is interested in becoming a full-time Gawker employee, you’re in luck, as there is “no set trial period” under which you first have to freelance in order to receive the full-time benefits, Darbyshire told us. However, that also could mean that the company could make decisions on a case-by-case basis. But with this new full-time status, Gawker writers are hypothetically less expendable, since firing them would include (typically) unemployment, severance and an extension of benefits.
Gawker was unable to tell us how many of the current writers have decided to take the full-time status, as they are still deciding, but the official line of why Denton suddenly had a chance of heart? “Hiring — as established media properties decline we are picking up talent therefrom, such as Irin Carmon from Women’s Wear Daily,” Darbyshire said. Whatever the reason, we hope that hiring bloggers with benefits is a trend that other publications pick up on.