Media Briefing: Publishers are adopting a Tuesday-Thursday in-person workweek

hybrid working model

In this week’s Media Briefing, media reporter Sara Guaglione looks at the trend of publishers adopting a mid-week schedule for employees to be working in the office.

  • The modern workweek
  • How to make a virtual event successful in the metaverse
  • 3 questions with with Headspace’s Morgan Selzer
  • Felicia Sonmez’s lawsuit against The Washington Post, Dotdash’s People interest, the Great Resignation of newsletter writers and more

The modern workweek

The key hits:

  • As publishers adopt hybrid workplaces, they are splitting the workweek between dedicated remote and in-office days.
  • TheSkimm and Paper are setting aside Mondays and Fridays for employees to work remotely.
  • Vice Media Group’s chief people officer has asked her team to be in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays for meetings.

As publishers begin to re-open their offices, an interesting trend is developing: in-person work days are falling between Tuesdays and Thursdays, with more flexibility on Mondays and Fridays.

At least that’s the in-office schedule determined by management at theSkimm, Paper and, to an extent, Vice Media Group. (Those three publishers also require employees to be vaccinated to be in the office.) But they are likely far from the only media companies that will test out this approach, as hybrid work policies are soon to become the norm. According to a “Changing Newsrooms 2021” report published on Nov. 11 by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, 89% of the 132 senior news industry leaders surveyed are “committed” to a shift to flexible and hybrid work.

TheSkimm will implement its hybrid work policy on Jan. 11, when full-time employees will be required to come into its New York City headquarters three times per month. The office will be closed on Mondays and Fridays, for at least six months. Based on surveys theSkimm conducted of its staff, employees wanted to continue to have the ability to get work done at home without the interruptions of in-person meetings, according to theSkimm’s co-founder and co-CEO Danielle Weisberg.

Tom Florio, founder & CEO of ENTtech Media Group LLC, decided in September when he reopened the offices at Paper magazine, which ENTtech owns, that staff could work remotely on Mondays and Fridays but had to be in the office Tuesday through Thursday.

“I didn’t believe there was that much of an upside to all of a sudden come in five days a week,” Florio said. “I picked Monday and Friday for a reason: a longer stretch of a week on both sides,” he added.

When Vice Media Group started easing people back into the office in mid-October, chief people officer Daisy Auger-Dominguez asked the New York and Los Angeles-based employees on her team to come in on Tuesdays and Thursdays for meetings. She wanted her team to meet each other, attend meetings together in person and have “an opportunity to connect,” Auger-Dominguez said in this week’s episode of the Digiday Podcast.

But it hasn’t gone without any hiccups. Auger-Dominguez, as well as one of her team members, scheduled so many virtual meetings back-to-back that it made a commute to the office impossible a few times. Auger-Dominguez said she is mindful of these growing pains. “We need to rebuild our muscles around scheduling,” she said.

Having defined days to come into the office can help ensure employees will see each other when they come in for work. Otherwise, the risk is few people will show up to the office on some days (like Fridays). Quartz CEO Zach Seward found that in the company’s first month of reopening its office in June, two-thirds of all visits to the office occurred on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“The worst problem with a mandate is you go to work Tuesday to Thursday and you find yourself in an office, but the real people you want to talk to…are working from home. You want to go to the office to be with the people that you work with on a day-to-day basis and are on your team,” said Jeanne Meister, evp at Executive Networks and founder of the Future Workplace Academy, which serves as a community and online learning center for people who work in human resources. “You don’t want to commute if you’re finding that you’re mostly Zooming with people,” she added.

Florio, Auger-Dominguez and Weisberg all mentioned that the point of bringing people together in-person is to facilitate creativity, innovation and connection. It also makes it easier to talk to each other. Auger-Dominguez said she can now just call out to someone in the office when she has a question. “I don’t have to, you know, schedule a meeting with you. I can just ask you right now,” she said. “The shortcuts were amazing.”

Taking a team-led approach seems to be another trend at media companies adopting hybrid work policies. Employees at theSkimm will coordinate with their managers to determine which days they must come into the office, and Auger-Dominguez designated the two days a week to have in-person meetings with members of her team. However, Paper took a different approach: Florio chose Tuesday-Thursday as mandatory days in the office for staff.

Some companies go the “complicated, jigsaw puzzle” route of determining which teams are better suited for in-person work, and the correlating teams that should be in the office at the same time, according to Julia Lamm, workforce strategy partner in the people & organization practice at consulting firm PwC. Lamm, who has recently focused on workforce transitions during the pandemic, said the “much easier way” of making sure the right teams are working in the office together is to tell employees to all be in the office at the same time, “hence you get to a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday model,” Lamm said. “It sounds like the media industry is embracing flexibility and saying: take that day off, and you can finish off your weekend somewhere else.”

Companies enacting hybrid work policies give employees some of the flexibility they want for part of the week, but Lamm said the approach also placates executives who are worried about corporate culture, which executives say is the biggest challenge with hybrid work models, according to an August 2021 PwC study. 

Management might also need to steel themselves for pushback to mandated return to offices, such as recent backlash from The New Yorker Union at Condé Nast and employees at Hearst’s magazine division. And HR at media companies shouldn’t be surprised if they start getting requests from employees to negotiate the days they come into the office in order to try to switch to days that personally work best for them, Meister said.

“This is an era of experimentation,” Meister said. “Rather than just having a mandate, it’s better to continue taking the pulse of the employees to see what is going to work best.” — Sara Guaglione

What we’ve heard

“Our advertising business has shifted from a CPM business of selling impressions to lead generation. We can host a webinar for you, advertising client, and get X number of people to attend, but we can also get you their names and contact information. People are buying because they want to generate leads.”

Media executive

How to make a virtual event successful in the metaverse

The metaverse is looming over the future of the internet, but especially over the way humans will interact with each other online. A few brave publishers and event companies have already taken a stab at what the metaverse could mean for virtual events, including Blavity Inc.’s tentpole conference, AfroTech, which has now been held twice in a virtual world (Blavity used eXp World Holding’s virtual world platform).

There is a learning curve, however, to onboarding audiences into this new medium and out of the haze of Zoom fatigue, which Blavity’s founder and CEO Morgan DeBaun said took a couple years to figure out. “That was one of the things that we didn’t do as well last year, explaining to people what was about to happen,” she said.

AfroTech, which was held Nov. 8 through 13 this year, is also a ticketed conference, with a price point between $400-600, depending on the level of access purchased. As a result, taking the time to teach people how the technology works and how to access the online AfroTech world is crucial to make sure attendees got the most out of their money. Being diligent about onboarding the audience led the conference’s attendance to increase from 2020 to 2021, DeBaun said. — Kayleigh Barber

Here are some steps DeBaun’s team took to get the AfroTech metaverse off the ground this year:

Make your metaverse feel familiar and welcoming
“Last year, we went through a lot of the customization to make avatars that reflect our community. So we added afros and braids and dreads and we added different colors of skin so that the full range of people’s skin tones were there. We added different facial shapes, because Black folks have different facial shapes. So we worked really closely with [our events vendor] to build out features and things that made sense for our community so that the metaverse could be as reflective of our in real life experience as possible.”

Set technological expectations
“A couple weeks before [the conference] it was like, ‘Wait a minute, can I get to this on my iPhone? Can I use this on my tablet? I don’t have WiFi in my house, can I do this at the library?’ It was a lot of nurturing of this is just as robust as a computer game [in terms of the amount of computational force required to operate it], in fact, more because it’s real-time synchronization. You need a lot of CPU data on your computer to be able to run this product.”

“We also did orientations in the metaverse, so that [attendees] sign in, and then [learn how to] turn left or turn right. How do I talk? How do I mute? Unmute? We spent a lot more time educating.”

Give sponsors plenty of opportunities to learn about what’s happening too
“We did a lot more training webinars, working with the IT department at all of our clients because they also have really strict download and install rules [from the platform]. It was a very large execution to make sure people could sign-in and show up.”

Set advertisers up for success in the metaverse
“If you want the attention, you’ve got to show up and show out. One of our clients is GoDaddy and they organized a flash mob that was happening at their booth in the metaverse. Their CEO signed in and they had all of their employees there, plus they advertised it on Twitter. It was just such a cute moment but it was a good example of people going above and beyond to get attention.”

Numbers to know

>1 million: Number of paid subscriptions that people have signed up for through Substack.

89%: Percentage share of surveyed senior news industry leaders who said they plan to maintain a hybrid newsroom mixing remote and in-office work.

69%: Percentage of surveyed adult Twitter users in the U.S. who said they use the platform to access the news.

70%: Percentage of non-profit news organizations that have at least four different sources of revenue.

3 questions with with Headspace’s Morgan Selzer

An ever-growing number of marketers are stretching into media companies, from sportsbooks like Penn National Gaming acquiring publishers to brands like Shopify producing their own TV shows. But it can be hard to tell which companies are actually building media businesses and which are simply building up their branded content practices.

Take meditation app Headspace, for example. The company’s media arm Headspace Studios has worked with Vox Media to produce a show for Netflix that prominently features Headspace’s branding and could easily be written off as branded content snuck onto an ad-free streaming service. However, in an interview, Headspace’s chief content and studios officer Morgan Selzer explained how the company’s studio business — which also produces podcasts and videos for its YouTube channel — falls on the side of media, not marketing, and why that dividing line may be dated.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity. — Tim Peterson

Does Headspace Studios consider itself to be a media entity or a marketing entity?

Actually we don’t consider ourselves marketing at all. We have a whole wonderful, really talented group of marketing folks that are run by the CMO, and our team is totally separate. I joined Headspace two-and-a-half years ago to figure out what Headspace Studios is and how we could deliver the ethos of Headspace in various what we call “off-platform content offerings.” And so it was meant really to be a media company. Yes, Headspace is a brand, but truly at our heart as a product is a premium content subscription service. Not dissimilar to a Netflix or Disney+, we’re offering content for subscription.

Headspace Studios works on TV shows as well as podcasts and digital videos. What is the studio’s level of involvement in the content being produced?

We are soup-to-nuts producing them. It varies from project to project, but for all of the content we create inside our product, we ideate, develop and produce all of that content. We have in-house production studios and recording studios. Same with our podcasts. The only place in which we sometimes partner with outside production is in our TV stuff. For example, on the Netflix show, that was an idea that I came up with with Netflix, and then we brought on Vox Media Studios as a production partners to help us render production services on that idea. But we were executive producers, and obviously we contributed to all of the scripting. I mean, Andy [Puddicombe, a co-founder of Headspace and voice of the service’s meditations], who was the host and guide of that show, wrote and conceived every episode.

There has been this whole trend of brands moving into entertainment and producing content and fashioning themselves as media companies or forming entertainment arms. Are you seeing any new developments in this trend?

The line is just so blurred now. Whether you’re an influencer or celebrity or even someone who just recently graduated college and is looking for job, everyone’s very aware of their quote-unquote brand and what their brand is and if that’s on-brand or off-brand. There’s intellectual property everywhere that can inspire wonderful, really engaging stories that need to be told. In the past, it was sort of like, ‘Oh, that’s branded content,’ and that was a bad thing. Now the trend is that really everything is kind of branded content. I don’t know if a viewer really cares if it’s branded or not. What a viewer cares about is, Is it interesting? Is it helping me in any kind of way? And is it entertaining? That can come from many places.

What we’ve covered

How small Black- and Latinx-owned print publications created digital advertising businesses through the Google News Initiative:

  • Over a six-month period, 28 Black-owned and Latinx-owned publications took part in the Google News Initiative’s Ad Transformation Lab.
  • The program focused on developing the publishers’ programmatic sales capabilities.

Read more about the Google News Initiative here.

How Vice Media Group’s Daisy Auger-Dominguez has put DE&I plans into practice:

  • Since joining VMG as its chief people officer in May 2020, Auger-Dominguez has overseen the roll-out of a dashboard for employees to track the company’s various DE&I initiatives.
  • As VMG employees return to the office, new initiatives will concern DE&I in a hybrid workplace.

Listen to the latest Digiday Podcast episode here.

Team Whistle looks to streaming and CTV to boost its agency business:

  • The sports video publisher has struck deals to sell ads and sponsorships for the likes of Redbox’s streaming service and global sporting competition World Games 2022.
  • Team Whistle’s burgeoning agency business is capitalizing on smaller publishers’ and IP rightsholders’ struggles to sell to advertisers directly.

Read more about Team Whistle here.

Group Nine’s branded product boxes brought in at least $1 million in revenue in the first year:

  • Last November, the publisher launched a direct-to-consumer ad product that sends brand-sponsored and editorially curated items to sweepstakes winners.
  • Over the next year, Group Nine expects to make at least $10 million from its “BOX’d” program.

Read more about Group Nine here.

What we’re reading

Why The Washington Post’s Felicia Sonmez is suing the newspaper:
New York Magazine’s Intelligencer has published a deep dive that uses The Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez’s lawsuit against the newspaper as a gateway for examining how the Post has limited some of its journalists’ abilities to speak up and report on issues like sexual assault. This issue is often tethered to Marty Baron’s tenure atop the Post, but as the article points out, every other editor cited in Sonmez’s lawsuit remains at the paper.

The Substack trend meets the Great Resignation:
Vanity Fair has taken a look at the other side of the Substack trend: What happens when journalists who had left publications to go solo decide they are done with being independent creators? Refunds, for starters.

Is Dotdash a People publisher?:
The New York Times has raised an eyebrow at Dotdash’s pending acquisition of Meredith’s national media business, specifically the former owner’s appetite for assuming the reins of People. The dissonance hinges on Dotdash specializing in intent-based content — how-to articles, recipe posts, etc. — and People pushing out, well, stories about people and popular culture. Fair. But — forgive me for bringing the funnel into this — if Dotdash’s existing properties are the publishing equivalent of Google search, then People is more akin to TV and can be used by Dotdash to move that broad audience down to its potentially more advertiser-performant publications.

BBC’s subjective impartiality policy:
The BBC’s impartiality policy seems to be subjective, according to The Guardian. Meant to preserve the public news broadcaster’s air of objectivity, the BBC has been uneven in the policy’s application, as evidenced by its recent decision to sever ties with a diversity program funded by LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.

FTC takes aim at publishers’ onerous subscription cancelation processes:
As easy as publishers have made it to sign up for a subscription, many have made it at least as hard to cancel one. That will have to change, as the Federal Trade Commission has said it will step up enforcement against companies that make people jump through hoops to cancel a subscription, according to Nieman Lab. But there’s a big question as to whether the FTC has resources to actually follow through on this enforcement, especially as it also looks to step up privacy enforcement.

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