Media’s BLM Reckoning

Media’s BLM Reckoning

  • Case
  • Teaching Notes

As people in the United States continue to protest systemic racism, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought down a reckoning for the media industry. With firings, resignations, and demands for accountability impacting leadership at multiple prestige media brands, including the New York Times and Condé Nast, many media companies are grappling with their failure to provide equitable and healthy working environments for employees of color. Students are asked to review the recent fallout and discuss how these companies can move forward.

Learning Outcomes

Students should apply learning in organizational culture, leadership, strategy, and diversity and equality to evaluate the responses from the affected media companies and to discuss how those companies can better commit to diversity in the future.

Screenshot of a tweet from makeda easter, @makekaeaster, posted at 9:05 AM June 23, 2020. The text of the tweet is “out of 502 people in the newsroom, 26 are black. Stories from black ex-staff may explain why retention is so bad. This needs to change. #blackatlat” and includes 4 images with other text.

Source: Twitter.

The Issue

As the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum nationwide, demands for defunding police departments and combatting racist structures have been joined by a new scrutiny of racism within workplaces. In the media industry, this scrutiny has led to a very public reckoning in which Black employees have spoken out against discriminatory practices and top editors have stepped down from their positions. At the New York Times, James Bennet resigned from his position as opinion editor after publishing—and then defending the choice to publish—an op-ed that was widely decried as being dangerous to Black people. On June 22, the Black Caucus of the Los Angeles Times Guild called for a public apology in an open letter to publisher Patrick Soon-Shiong and sent a list of demands that included equal pay, more advancement opportunities, and increased hiring of Black contributors.

In early June, Adam Rapoport stepped down from his position as the editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit magazine after a photo of him in brownface resurfaced, along with accusations of a toxic work environment for employees of color. Condé Nast, which owns Bon Appétit, has weathered further accusations of racism within the company, leading to the resignation of Vice President Matt Duckor. Anna Wintour and other Condé executives have offered apologies and stressed diversity efforts in response. Meanwhile, top editor of Refinery29 Christine Barberich resigned amidst accusations of a toxic workplace in which women of color were serially mistreated (Barberich’s resignation was quickly followed by the stepping down of the company’s president, Amy Emmerich), and ESPN leadership promised to reflect on their missteps as Black employees went public with examples of racism within the company.

Screenshot of a tweet from R29 Union, @R29Union, posted July 2. The text of the tweet is “We’re pleased that our June 11 letter to VMG management asking for Amy Emmerich’s resignation was finally addressed. We’re looking forward to working with new leadership who’s experienced in overseeing a diverse @refinery29 newsroom committed to serving a diverse audience.” Included is a retweet of a post from Kerry Flynn, @kerrymflynn.

Source: Twitter.

Why Is It News?

The issues raised at these media companies are just now coming to the surface because of recent mainstream acceptance of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has galvanized efforts to oust racism from institutions. A host of media companies are now publicly grappling with racism and abuses of power that were previously covered up—at Complex, for instance, several former employees broke nondisclosure agreements in order to speak out about their experiences. Resignations, apologetic statements, and promises to do better have largely been the immediate response, though many of those statements have been met with skepticism. But what happens next, particularly while momentum wanes as media attention is drawn to other news events, remains unclear.

Discussion Questions
  • How well—or how poorly—do you think these companies have responded to the allegations of entrenched racism? Do you think resignations of leadership or top editors are enough to enact change?
  • What are the practical next steps for these companies? What do you think are some concrete actions they can and should take?
  • How can these companies be held accountable to their pledges to “do better”?

This case was prepared for inclusion in SAGE Business Cases primarily as a basis for classroom discussion or self-study, and is not meant to illustrate either effective or ineffective management styles. Nothing herein shall be deemed to be an endorsement of any kind. This case is for scholarly, educational, or personal use only within your university, and cannot be forwarded outside the university or used for other commercial purposes.

2020 SAGE Publications, Ltd. All Rights Reserved

You are not authorized to view Teaching Notes. Please contact your librarian for access or sign in to your existing instructor profile.
locked icon

Sign in to access this content

Get a 30 day FREE TRIAL

  • Watch videos from a variety of sources bringing classroom topics to life
  • Read modern, diverse business cases
  • Explore hundreds of books and reference titles