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Netflix’s editorial division hit with layoffs

Four months ago, the streaming service ‘aggressively’ recruited a small army of journalists – primarily women and people of colour – to run its new fan site, Tudum. This week, it abruptly axed a significant portion of those hires.

After posting disastrous results for its March quarter – the loss of 200,000 subscribers after having only seen sustained growth since 2011 – Netflix has reportedly laid off several experienced writers working for its new editorial wing.

Launched just four months ago, Tudum (an onomatopoeic rendering of the signature sound that accompanies the logo when users open the app) was intended to be a kind of ‘entertainment magazine’ that would boost its original shows with top-quality editorial content.

This includes anything from fan-favourite-focused blogs and promotional articles on ‘the stories behind the stories’ to news about upcoming releases and interviews with the people who make them.

It was designed to be a one-stop-shop for all things Netflix, an ambitious venture that saw the streaming giant ‘aggressively’ recruit an impressive roster of journalists – primarily women and people of colour – to run it.

The platform did so by poaching them from other big-name sites like Condé Nast, Vulture, Teen Vogue, Bustle, and Vice with promises of authorial independence, exclusive networking opportunities, job security, diverse staff, and higher-than average wages. I’m talking hourly rates ranging from $60-$85 (which annualise to $124,800-$176,800).

This week, however, it abruptly sent a swathe of those hires packing, with no prior warning whatsoever and a pitiful offer of just a fortnight’s severance pay.

‘They went very out of their way to hire high level journalists of colour who have quite a bit of name recognition and a lot of experience and talent. In some ways, they were just buying clout to lend credibility to their gambit,’ one member of the team told NPR, mere hours after being let go.

‘We were courted pretty aggressively. They sold us on the most amazing thing that you could want as a culture or entertainment journalist. Something that seemed impossible anywhere else.’

Yet in the short time Tudum has been around, the vision and strategy described here apparently changed dramatically. Instead of being able to cover anything they wanted, the hires were told not to say anything deemed controversial, even if it was the subject of a documentary, for example.

Certain submissions were additionally scrutinised for being too praise-heavy or too critical and any mention of films or series outside of the Netflix roster were deleted entirely.

‘I’m really proud of a lot of the stories that were done under even those sort of tight, corporate parameters that were set and that constantly moved,’ adds the ex-employee.

‘A lot of great work was done because they hired extremely talented people. So this more than anything reads as a lack of investment into a project that they didn’t properly plan for or properly set up.’

Surprisingly in light of these events, Netflix claims there are no plans to mothball the site, which a spokesperson has called an ‘important priority’ for the company.

According to CFO Spencer Neumann, it’s simply part of a plan to restructure Netflix’s marketing department as it reels from a stock-pummelling earnings report and a forecasted decline of 2 million subscribers before the end of 2022. Thus, the cost-cutting crusade will continue.

‘I wouldn’t have left my job if I knew this would happen so soon,’ says another of those affected.

‘I feel that we were led astray and taken advantage of because we were mostly a team of women and mostly people of colour. People upended their lives for this. We were sold this false fantasy. We got scammed.’