Jezebel Will Shut Down, Parent Company Announces
The parent company of the website Jezebel announced on Thursday that it was shutting down the site and laying off its staff, citing economic headwinds and shifting audience priorities.
The layoffs will affect 23 people, including the Jezebel team, Jim Spanfeller, the chief executive of G/O Media, said in a memo to the company’s staff. He also announced that the G/O Media editorial director, Merrill Brown, would be departing the company.
“While G/O Media is a lean, nimble organization, we are not immune to the economic headwinds rattling our business,” Mr. Spanfeller wrote.
“Unfortunately, our business model and the audiences we serve across our network did not align with Jezebel’s,” he added.
Mr. Spanfeller said that G/O Media had tried to sell Jezebel and had talked with “over two dozen potential buyers,” but that it did not find a new home for the site. The company owns and operates several digital media outlets, including Gizmodo, Quartz and Deadspin.
News of the site’s closure bookended a revolution of feminist writing on the internet that Jezebel helped kick off when it launched in 2007. A wave of sites, including DoubleX, from Slate, and Reductress, followed, many of them adopting Jezebel’s incisive focus on gender politics and racism. Its writers were also known for pithy prose and quirky story angles.
Anna Holmes, who founded Jezebel and left the publication in 2010, woke up to the announcement of the site shuttering on Thursday and said she was still processing the news. Sadness, gratitude and pride were among the mix of emotions she was feeling, she said.
“I just feel grateful that I got the opportunity to create that site alongside a bunch of other smart, interesting, funny women,” said Ms. Holmes, who was also the site’s first editor in chief.
Ms. Holmes, 50, said that she was hired by Nick Denton, the founder of Gawker Media, to launch the publication in 2007. Last week, she reflected on Jezebel’s legacy in an essay for The New Yorker, calling the site a catalyst for discussion about “sexual assault and harassment, pay inequity and cultural depictions of women.”
Many of Jezebel’s alumni have gone on to success at mainstream publications, including The New York Times and The New Yorker.
Jezebel sparked discussions about gender, sexism and power that have since become a larger part of the culture and have set new expectations for what the mainstream media should cover and how.
On its first day, the website presented a challenge: It would award $10,000 for the best unedited version of an image that became the cover of a women’s magazine. The stunt was meant to call attention to unrealistic beauty standards. The winning photo, from a Redbook magazine story on the country artist Faith Hill, was published two months later and received national attention.
In a statement, the Writers Guild of America, East, which represents journalists at the company, said that it was “devastated though hardly surprised” about the news of Jezebel’s suspension.
“Jezebel has been a pillar of fearless journalism and important cultural commentary since 2007 and made an indelible mark on the media landscape,” the statement read.
Kady Ruth Ashcraft, a senior writer at Jezebel who was laid off on Thursday, said she had been reading the site since 2007 and “it’s really formed who I am as a woman, as a writer, as a pop culture and politics obsessive.”
She said she received an invitation to a 10 a.m. meeting with human resources, where she and her co-workers were informed that they were being laid off. It had been difficult to work at the company in recent weeks, after the news site Axios reported in late October that the brand was for sale. Jezebel was operating with a “skeleton crew” of “incredibly talented reporters” at the end, Ms. Ashcraft said.
“I’m really sad to be laid off today, but if I’m being honest, I feel more sad about this incredible website — that launched so many careers, but also just opened up a lot of people’s minds,” she said.
“That ending feels kind of more heartbreaking to me than me personally losing a job,” she added, “because I can get a new job, but this is the end of Jezebel and that feels really, really bad.”