Bill Simmons, founder of sports media company The Ringer, is receiving backlash from employees who say that the newsroom is lacking in diversity, sparking a debate in the company on how to improve hiring practices.
In a recent episode of “The Bill Simmons Podcast,” guest Ryen Russillo praised Simmons for “the jobs and the opportunities” that he’s given to his staff. The June 1 episode, entitled “A Truly Sad Week in America,” focused on the George Floyd protests that have erupted across the nation in the last month. After the podcast, staffers joined to condemn the episode and Simmons’ hiring practices, and the two apologized.
The Ringer Union, who represents around 65 employees at the site and is part of the Writers Guild of America, East, took to Twitter to confirm that the outlet “has a lot of work to do” in terms of diversifying the newsroom. They asserted that in 2019, 86% of speakers on the Ringer Podcast Network were white and that they have “zero Black editors” and no full time Black writers on the NBA and NFL beats.
“A representative staff is crucial for representative coverage. Going forward, we hope management will make firm commitments to increasing the diversity of our staff, particularly our public-facing voices,” the union said.
After the podcast episode, Simmons held a meeting with his staff saying that he would learn from his mistakes. According to the New York Times, the staffers brought up the lack of a Black editor on the NFL beat. As of now, the Ringer has around 90 employees and six of them are Black editorial staff members. When speaking with the Times, former Black employees revealed racist abuse via Twitter users and the company’s lack of defense against the malicious behavior. Between 2017 and 2019, several Black editorial staff members left the Ringer.
Simmons wrote in an email to the Times that the Ringer “fell short” on diversifying their newsroom. He said that he will make more personnel announcements shortly to show that the company is changing their ways.
According to a statement from the Ringer, 72% of the current hosts of shows on the Ringer podcast network are persons of color. The current percentage of employees at the Ringer is 65% white and 10% Black. The company is “working to improve this number,” per the statement.
Looking forward, the Ringer is hiring a Black writer, Kaelen Jones, to cover the NFL beat. A spokesman told the Times that they will work to curb the abusive commentary on social media from readers and are building more opportunities for new staffers. The Ringer Union has offered a suggestion that half of job candidates will come from underrepresented groups. This decision will be discussed at a bargaining session later this week.