Vice Media Makes New Round of Layoffs in Digital Group, Refinery29

Courtesy of Vice Media

Vice Media Group launched a new wave of layoffs, reflecting the youth-culture media company’s ongoing financial struggles and need to realign toward profitable areas of the business — amid a broader shift toward video and visual content.

Several Vice employees posted on social media that they were laid off Thursday. A source familiar with the situation said fewer than 20 staffers got pink-slipped, with the cutbacks coming in in North America from the Vice Digital and women-focused Refinery29 groups. Vice News was not affected by the latest layoffs, according to the source.

A Vice Media Group rep confirmed the company had made layoffs but declined to comment further.

In a joint statement the Vice Union and R29 Union, both of which are affiliated with WGA East, said that 17 staffers were laid off “in what has become a macabre annual ritual at this company.”

Vice Media chief digital officer Cory Haik, in a memo sent Thursday to staffers that was obtained by Variety, said the layoffs were part of the company’s to “focus on building content for our digital communities in the native ways they consume it.”

“As part of this continued global alignment we’ve unfortunately had to say goodbye to some of our friends and colleagues today. We wish them well and thank them for their dedicated service over the years,” Haik wrote.

Haik wrote that, “For some of our brands, we know that text continues to be an engaging way to reach our audiences.” On the other hand, she continued, “our digital entertainment brands like Noisey [covering music] and Munchies [food] have had a remarkable increase in views and engagement through our visual platforms (YouTube, Instagram) but a precipitous decline in text consumption over the last few years, roughly 75 percent.”

According to Haik’s memo, Cliff Gulibert, executive producer of digital video and innovation, will expand his role to lead global Vice digital entertainment brands across “all formats and expressions.” Vice Media editor-in-chief Kate Lowenstein will now oversee the “global text operation” under Gulibert. Katie Drummond will continue to lead all of Vice News digital brands globally, and Refinery29 will continue to be led by recently hired global editor in chief Simone Oliver.

In their statement, the Vice Union and R29 Union said they were dismayed that Haik acknowledged the layoffs only fleetingly and near the end of her memo, which touted “the achievement of arbitrary social metrics.”

“We have worked in this industry long enough to know today’s metrics are tomorrow’s punchlines, and yesterday’s pivot is today’s clumsy stumble,” the unions said.

Among Vice employees who said they have been laid off were Meredith Balkus, who was Vice’s managing editor of digital, and Kate Dries, editorial director of features.

“well, lads: they finally got me. after 4.5 years, i was laid off from @VICE today,” Balkus tweeted Thursday. She added: “i’m grateful for the opportunity to have learned so much and worn a variety of different hats. but it’s been really hard to watch a revolving door of incompetent, out-of-touch executives repeatedly fuck up, and see hard-working, brilliant writers and editors suffer as a result.”

Dries quipped in a tweet: “In March of 2020 I said, ‘I’ll be laid off before I work in that office again’ and honestly it feels good to be right.”

Others who said they have been let go by Vice include Casey Johnston, lifestyle editorial director, entertainment writer Jelisa Castrodale, and Josh Terry, a contributing culture writer. “VICE laid me off today, but I did what I came to do: great work with my beautiful team,” Johnston wrote in a tweet. “We all die (pivot to video) but not all of us truly live, and by god the life team lived.”

In May 2020, Vice Media Group laid off 155 employees, or more than 5% of its total worldwide staff, in response to a drop in revenue related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Vice Media Group, first launched in 1994 as a punk magazine in Montreal, now operates five main businesses: the Vice.com digital group; Vice Studios, its film and TV production unit; the Vice TV international television network; Vice News; and the Virtue creative agency. The company’s portfolio also includes Refinery29, which it acquired in 2019; Pulse Films, a London-based production studio; and i-D, a global digital and bimonthly magazine defining fashion and contemporary culture and design.