Inside Digital Media’s Great Upheaval in 2018, From Layoffs to Unionized Newsrooms

Many publications changed ownership this year

2018 was a tumultuous year for media. Illustration: Dianna McDougall; Sources: Getty Images

It was a tumultuous, sometimes painful, year for a lot of publishers and the talented journalists employed by them. There were multiple layoffs throughout the industry, and entire media outlets were shuttered.

Many publications changed ownership this year, and other brands greatly reduced their print product—or eliminated them altogether.

Multiple publications made moves, though, to diversify their revenue streams and launched paywalls, moved deeper into experiential events and launched into the licensing business. But what’s left looming as we head into the next year? Are these efforts enough to keep the lights on?

Here is some of the upheaval that media saw in 2018.


Slate employees voted to unionize with Writer’s Guild of America, East.


Vox Media laid off about 50 employees in February, representing about 5 percent of the workforce. The cuts were mostly seen at Vox properties that included Racked, Curbed and SB Nation.


Staffers with Onion, Inc. voted to unionize with Writer’s Guild of America, East.


Editorial staff with The New Republic voted to unionize.


Gizmodo Media Group avoided layoffs by offering buyouts, which about 44 staffers took advantage of in June. Meanwhile, editorial staff of The New Yorker voted to unionize with The NewsGuild of New York.


New York Daily News cut half of its editorial staff in July. The Tribune Publishing company was told in an unsigned email from the parent company that the cuts were being made “to capture the opportunities ahead and address the significant financial challenges we have faced for years.”


Good Media Group—which includes digital media properties like GOOD and Upworthy—let about 30 people go.


The Outline also cut an estimated six staffers in September.

BuzzFeed laid off a “handful” of its employees in September as it scaled down its podcasting efforts. At the time, The Wall Street Journal reported that the publisher was shifting resources away from audio to prioritize original shows.

Panoply laid off its editorial staff after announcing that it was changing direction and would no longer be producing original podcasts.


After a round of layoffs last year, Refinery29 laid off another 40 employees in October. Executives pointed to their efforts to build diverse revenue streams, including live events, as promising areas of growth but said projected revenue this year will fall about 5 percent short of their goal.

After almost four years, Lenny Letter, the newsletter turned ecommerce company turned tour around the U.S. dreamed up by Lena Dunhamand Jenni Konner, shut down in October. A direct reason wasn’t given, but the founders wrote at the time that the change “allows for growth and a shift in perspectives—ours and yours.”

After relaunching digital media company Super Deluxe about three years ago, WarnerMedia announced that it would shutter it. The studio produced scripted and unscripted programming, as well as branded campaigns. Turner said in a statement at the time that there were changes to the “social and mobile-first ecosystem” as well as “duplication” within their businesses.


After seven years, fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson announced that she would shut down her site, Rookie Mag. In a lengthy post to readers, Gevinson wrote that the online teen magazine was no longer “financially sustainable.” She said she had explored selling to new owners and launching a subscription model, but that she was ultimately “unable to proceed with any of them.”

At the very end of the month, Mic News laid off most of its employees, totaling to more than 80 people. Later in the day, executives announced that the company would be sold to Bustle Digital Group. The looming cancellation of the publisher’s Facebook Watch program, Mic Dispatch, was thought to have led to company’s dire financial situation.

Editorial staffers from Ziff Davis-owned media companies, including PC Magazine, Mashable, and AskMen, voted to unionize.


New York magazine employees, including print and web staff, voted to unionize with The NewsGuild of New York.

Newly unionized Slate employees nearly unanimously voted to go on strike over contract negotiations.

After two years of negotiations, unionized Law360 employees landed their first contract with management.

@SaraJerde Sara Jerde is publishing editor at Adweek, where she covers traditional and digital publishers’ business models. She also oversees political coverage ahead of the 2020 election.