Bustle Digital Group acquires Mic after massive layoffs
Posted November 29, 2018 11:27 a.m. EST
Updated November 29, 2018 5:04 p.m. EST
(CNN) — The digital news company Mic has laid off most of its staff, a spokesperson for the company confirmed.
The layoffs were first reported Thursday by Recode.
It is not yet clear exactly how many employees were affected. Mic declined to comment beyond confirming the Recode report.
The company was founded in 2011, and for the past several years has branded itself asa news website geared toward millennials.
Mic Publisher Cory Haik also resigned Thursday. In a note to staff that was obtained by CNN Business, Haik called journalism a "tough business."
"Our business models are unsettled, and the macro forces at play are all going through their own states of unrest," she wrote. "If anyone tells you they have it figured out, a special plan to save us all, or that it's all due to a singular fault, know that is categorically false. Like the truth, it is indeed complicated."
The layoffs happened just before Bustle Digital Group announced to its staff that the publication acquired Mic. In an email to Bustle staff that was obtained by CNN Business, Bustle founder and CEO Bryan Goldberg said the company plans to "relaunch" Mic.
"There has been a lot of news about Mic today. They have navigated some tough waters in the last year, and today was an especially difficult one," Goldberg wrote. "Our company is in a unique position to create a bright future for Mic."
Bustle confirmed the acquisition to CNN Business on Thursday afternoon.
Mic was once a digital media darling, attracting around $60 million in funding from investors. Its biggest backers included Lightspeed Venture Partners, Clark Jermoluk Founders Fund, WPP and WarnerMedia. (WarnerMedia owns CNN.)
The company's staff swelled to more than 100 people by early 2016, according to The New York Times, which asked in an article published at the time: "What happens when millennials run the workplace?"
But the climate is a tough one for digital media publishers right now. Ad revenue alone hasn't been enough to support these businesses, and Google and Facebook have substantial control over the ad market.
Refinery29, HuffPost and Vocativ have all cut staff in the past year. So have CNN Digital, Vice and BuzzFeed.
Mic laid off 25 employees in August 2017 as part of a pivot to video. Co-founder and CEO Chris Altchek told staff at the time that the shift was needed because "visual journalism already makes up 75% of the time that our audience spends" with the site.
There were signs this year that the environment wasn't improving for Mic. Digiday reported in April that traffic to Mic's website had been plunging.
The article also noted that Mic was very reliant on Facebook, citing statistics that showed views on the social media site fell to 11 million views in March compared to 192 million about a year earlier.
Still, company executives pushed back on some reports that characterized the situation at Mic as particularly dire. When the Columbia Journalism Review reported in September that the company's board discussed a possible shutdown, Altchek called the report "categorically false."
Abu Zafar, who worked as a digital platforms editor at Mic, told CNN Business that the staff expected layoffs, but nothing at the scale that was announced Thursday.
"This was sprung on us within a day," Zafar said. "Rumors flew yesterday, and we walked in this morning and it was all over."
Zafar said he had already decided to leave the company before the layoffs were announced, and had other work lined up. But others weren't in the same position.
"There's a better way Mic's leadership could have handled this and given enough warning and notice to its employees," he added. "But now they are going to be going into the holidays with this immediately sprung on them."
Emily Singer, a senior political reporter at Mic, tweeted Thursday that she was leaving the company.
"I'm so proud of what we've accomplished here," Singer wrote.
Kerry Lauerman, Mic's executive news director, tweeted about the "gutting experience" Thursday.
"But only love for the extremely resilient and open-hearted team of Mic editors, producers, writers and shooters I had the great honor of working with," he added. "They performed brilliantly often under a cloud of uncertainty."
Reached by phone, Lauerman declined to comment further, saying only that the team was packing up all of their things.
Several other employees also tweeted news of their departures.
"I have so much to say, but most importantly the time I spent at @mic was the best of my career," wrote Managing Editor Colleen Curry. "I learned so, so much from brilliant people dedicated to keeping journalism alive."
The company's workers had also voted to unionize earlier this year, and were represented by the NewsGuild of New York. In a statement Thursday, the guild called the layoffs an "egregious act."
"Shuttering an entire news operation at a moment's notice, primarily as a result of an inexperienced leadership team and chronic mismanagement, cannot become the new norm in media," the NewsGuild said in a statement. "We will continue to fight for each and every one of our members in the face of these cuts, and explore all options available to us, legal and otherwise."