To anyone paying attention, the news that NY-based gossip site Gawker is grossly hypocritical won’t come as a shock. After all, as I wrote in December, the blog giant generates millions of monitizable pageviews with class-baiting stories of wealthy tech elites destroying San Francisco, despite the fact that Gawker Media is itself a huge tech company, based in a Cayman Islands tax haven, and founded by a multimillionaire who hero worships Steve Jobs, thinks “Uber may do more for the planet than foreign aid workers in Mozambique” and who made his fortune organizing events for Europe’s tech elites.
Still, it seems I underestimated Gawker when I assumed they’d reached the bottom of the hypocrisy barrel.
Gawker Media LLC has begun filing documents in response to a lawsuit brought by a group of the site’s former unpaid interns, who claim they are entitled to back pay under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. The suit, initially filed in a Manhattan federal court in June of last year, follows a similar, successful, claim by former Fox Searchlight interns who worked on the movie “Black Swan.”
Gawker’s attempt to block the suit comes in the form of signed affidavits, submitted to the court and obtained by PandoDaily, in which Gawker employees explain why it was perfectly reasonable to expect editorial interns to work without pay (and in some cases without so much as college credit). In short: the invaluable educational experience of working at Gawker should be reward enough.
From the affidavit of Whitson Gordon, editor in chief of Gawker’s Lifehacker…
I believe that most of the internship consisted of training. We taught interns how to moderate comments on the Lifehacker website, how to review and find relevant blogs, and how to research online to find interesting ideas from which the editors could possibly craft a post. They would discuss with editors and send them links, and we would let them know if an article idea was viable, and most importantly, why. The teaching process was always ongoing throughout the duration of the internship.
From the affidavit of Charlie Jane Anders, managing editor of Gawker’s IO9…
None of our internships were paid, and the interns understood that it was an unpaid position. We had one or two paid interns at the launch of the site, but we stopped paying the next interns that arrived in 2009. None of the subsequent interns complained that they were not paid since they understood that it was an unpaid internship from the beginning…
The training program was not a formal process. We explained the required tasks when the interns first arrived and then gave them lots of feedback over the first month or two to make sure they were on track. For example, when interns carried out research, they would often come back with insufficient results. I would tell them how they missed important things that were necessary to make the research truly complete enough for a story. After giving them research tips, I would send them back to try the research again.
From the affidavit of Jessica Coen, editor in chief of Jezebel…
The interns performed a wide variety of tasks in order to give them an understanding of how the site works as a while. They would crunch numbers for fashion week, which consisted of counting the number of models of color who appeared in the fashion shows… Simply observing what it is like to work at a place like Gawker is valuable, and internships at Gawker sites are good for a person’s resume… It is an invaluable experience to work with any editor directly, and several Jezebel interns had the opportunity to work with editors one-on-one.
Putting aside the question of whether Gawker had the legal right to keep blog slaves — a question the court will answer soon — the company’s 60-plus pages of excuses are in stark contrast to Gawker’s editorial condemnation of other companies who use unpaid interns.
In October of last year, in a story titled “Unpaid Intern Not a Real Employee, Can’t Sue for Sexual Harassment,” Gawker expressed outrage that unpaid workers at Phoenix satellite television were denied the same rights as other employees…
As if being an unpaid intern wasn’t bad enough, now a federal judge in New York has ruled that individuals who don’t get paid for their work aren’t protected by the New York City Human Rights Law and therefore can’t bring a sexual harassment claim against their employers.
Two months earlier (“Condé Nast Stops Paying Interns”), the site huffily called out “Magazine conglomerate Condé Nast, which was slapped with a lawsuit in June for paying interns less than a dollar per hour.” Remarkably Gawker didn’t mention anything about their own lawsuit, which was filed the exact same month.
As recently as last week, just days after Gawker’s lawyers filed papers insisting unpaid labor was fair, the site’s writers were still loudly decrying “the overwhelming number of the post-graduate set who are still toiling at unpaid internships,” which creates a culture of “survival of the fittest or least soul-emptied.”
Still, Gawker has reserved its most aggressive snark for wealthy new media bosses who don’t pay their help. Back in August, under the headline “Revealed: Sheryl Sandberg’s Unpaid Intern Disgrace”, former Valleywag editor Sam Biddle (who has since been bumped down to “co-editor”) tore apart the Facebook COO when one of her employees advertised for an unpaid assistant to help with Sandberg’s book tour…
We’ve found a copy of an unpaid job listing Lean In Foundation’s editor-at-large tried to delete. If Facebook’s celeb COO Sheryl Sandberg just made $91 million last week (and God only knows how much from her book), why can’t she pay her interns a cent?
Four months later, Biddle was still sufficiently furious at Sandberg that he included her “intern disgrace” as one of “the biggest dick moves of Silicon Valley 2013.”
Sheryl Sandberg tried to hire an intern for Lean In without paying them. The editorial director for Sandberg’s top-down feminist movement later claimed the unpaid labor was for her and not Lean In. But it served as stark reminder that Sandberg’s exultation of labor “whether paid, unpaid, or poorly paid,” benefits the top of the pyramid more than the bottom.
Dick victims: Young women wondering whether it’s okay to ask to get paid for their work.
One can only imagine the awkward confrontation at Gawker HQ, then, when Biddle gets a hold of whoever was responsible for managing Gawker’s own army of unpaid interns. I’d sure hate to be in their shoes!
So who, according to the sworn affidavit of Gizmodo’s Brian Barrett, was one of the chief “dicks” behind Gawker’s own “intern disgrace”?
Lean in and take a bow…
Valleywag’s Sam Biddle.
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The affidavits cited in this post are embedded below, along with a couple of the other more interesting court documents. They make for largely depressing, but occasionally comic, reading. One particular highlight can be found in the testimony of former intern Quinton Ma. When invited by Gawker’s own attorneys to outline the “experience” he gained at Gawker, Ma replied…
The internship was a good experience for me because I learned that I did not want to pursue a career in editorial work.
…In other words, working at Gawker taught Ma that he never, ever wanted to work at another company like Gawker.
That’s a life lesson you can take to the bank, kids.
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