Earlier this month Buzzfeed’s 80 London-based editorial staff began the process of achieving the right to negotiate collective with management as members of the National Union of Journalists.
Chief executive Jonah Peretti responded by saying that in the past he has opposed unions because “they introduce an extra layer of bureaucracy and process, and they unnecessarily divide our teams”.
Former journalist of the year Michael Gillard left Buzzfeed’s investigations unit after just over six months in early 2016.
In a letter to Press Gazette he offers some advice to his former colleagues:
Journalists at Buzzfeed are right to unionise and demand collective bargaining power.
The dangers ahead, however, are many when dealing with mendacious management who, after their hyperbole evaporates, are really more Trump than Chomsky.
I know. As a lifelong member of the NUJ, we fought Buzzfeed and won when I found myself on the receiving end of unacceptable management insecurity and hubris.
Firstly, it’s important to recognise that until a staff journalist passes the two-year mark their rights under UK employment law are pretty much non-existent when it comes to arbitrary dismissal.
In cases of workplace discrimination and harassment, however, there is still recourse through the courts, but the battle is hard, even for the hardy.
Checks should be made to see if Buzzfeed has any grievance policies and whether they comply with ACAS. When I left in February, such internal polices were non-existent and human resources lacked the necessary independence.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that Buzzfeed is still desperate to be taken seriously in UK journalism.
So too are its six-figure salaried news managers, who’ve staked their reputations, some more deserving than others, on being on the side of the angels and Buzzfeed News not being a fig leaf for fluff or a vanity project for its owner.
So if the axe falls unfairly, your best asset is leverage; good old-fashioned dirt and any evidence of the intrinsic hypocrisy of opposing unionisation while pointing a digital finger at the work practices and double standards of others.
Keep copies of all the gushing praise and anything else that may help your cause. But also keep off the internal chat rooms.
Finally, resist attempts to divide you with individual deals and the phony dude culture of free ‘brews n’ snacks’ – it already keeps you at your desk during lunchtime.
And if you do get to form a union chapel, then make sure your representatives are not co-opted, as the old Guardian I knew was apt to do.
Response from Buzzfeed: “Michael Gillard left BuzzFeed in January following a dispute, after six months with the company. We continue to wish him well.”
Update: Buzzfeed’s NUJ chapel has issued the following statement: “Michael Gillard does not represent the views of the NUJ members working at Buzzfeed. We want to engage constructively with management about trade union recognition and terms and conditions at work.”