The Daunting Reality Behind The Massive Layoffs

Public concern about diverse and inclusive storytelling rises as layoffs climb in the media industry.

Layoffs are steadily increasing in 2024, and the media industry is the latest victim impacted by massive job cuts. For the last two months, several news outlets and publications announced the downsizing of their organizations. The Los Angeles Times laid off at least 115 people, Sports Illustrated reduced the majority of its staffers and Condé Nast terminated up to 300 of its employees, which is just a portion of the 836 job cuts that occurred in January alone. 

The industry’s turbulence continued into February when news broke about Paramount, which released nearly 800 employees, and several hundred Vice workers being laid off due to the company shutting down its website. Restructuring, budget costs and using artificial intelligence to replace jobs are cited as contributing factors to the ongoing terminations. 

As the media layoffs increase, Black employees are often the first individuals significantly impacted by company reductions. RAND, a research organization, found that the racial disparities among Black workers consist of higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. The current and bleak state of the media industry has proven this circumstance to be true. This issue raises a bigger concern about how diverse and inclusive storytelling will be impacted as Black and Brown media professionals are pushed out. 

“It’s unfortunate to see because it makes you think about the future and what’s going to happen going forward,” said Njera Perkins, a celebrity and entertainment writer. “It’s bad enough that we fear our stories are going to disappear one day when publications go under and shutter. We’re already struggling to hold onto those stories now. There is no telling what is going to happen a year or two from now if we don’t figure out how to make journalism sustainable again.” 

After being laid off from POPSUGAR in November 2023, Perkins experienced the effects of the media industry’s instability. As she recalled her career beginnings, she mentioned how the current state of media looks different from when she launched into the digital landscape in 2020.

In addition to the worldwide pandemic, 2020 was a year of America’s racial reckoning. Following the protests on police brutality after the brutal murder of George Floyd, there was a surge in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts by corporations who pledged to make significant efforts in increasing inclusivity within the workplace. 

Data showed that DEI positions increased by 55 percent in 2020. In reports retrieved by Bloomberg, research also showed that corporate America created more jobs in 2020 and 2021, with a 94 percent increase in employees being people of color. Fast-forward to 2024, and those DEI promises that spanned various industries, including media companies, are facing backlash from recent concerns about those efforts being reversed. Perkins told GU she had felt a stark difference since starting her career four years ago.

“From then until now, it feels like a huge change is happening,” she says. “A lot of these layoffs have been targeted towards journalists of color, so it feels like all that progress has been washed away, which is sad to see. We were told at one point that diverse voices and our stories were a priority. And now, that is totally not the case.”

In addition to Black and Brown journalists being impacted by media layoffs, coverage opportunities for journalists who remain unscathed are starting to be overtaken by influencers. 

Viral videos of influencers on red carpets asking celebrities questions unrelated to the intended project or event are becoming trendy. TikToker Harry Daniels is just one example of the multiple instances.

In February, Daniels garnered 2.2 million views for asking America Ferrera if she preferred having “a gay son or thot daughter” while on the red carpet for the People’s Choice Awards in February. The actress’s discomfort with receiving the question is apparent as she walks away from the TikToker, who captioned the video “America Ferrera Uncomfortable.” 

Backlash followed from social media users emphasizing how these instances contribute to journalism’s decline.

Perkins shared similar sentiments, adding that these decisions indicate Hollywood values influencers more than journalists. “We are already offered 4 to 5 minutes with talent to barely hold full conversations, and it’s a waste of time asking pointless things from somebody who doesn’t have the background or skillset to take those opportunities,” she says.

While influencers have a place in traditional media, their contributions to creating content should not be at the expense of trained media professionals losing their jobs. Given the consistency of mass media layoffs, it’s crucial now more than ever to explore a more sustainable infrastructure that does not lose sight of the impact of telling diverse stories and amplifying underrepresented voices that many journalists of color bring to the table.

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