Staff at the AV Club – the music, movies and entertainment website owned by G / O Media – were told yesterday that the company would be shutting down its Chicago office, where most of its editorial staff are based. Website editor Scott Robson told employees they would be forced to move to Los Angeles, where he is establishing a new office, or lose their jobs.

During the Zoom All-Staff Meeting, a recording of which was leaked to Gawker, Robson casually framed the move, almost optional. The team, he said, was “invited” to join the Los Angeles office, where he is based. “Most of you know we talked about opening an office in LA,” Robson began in the recording. “The reason we had the [earlier] call with Chicago was to let them know that the Chicago team are invited to come to LA and be a part of this transition.

The recent hiring of Los Angeles-based Robson has surprised some. When he was announced as the site’s new editor in August, there were only three employees in Los Angeles: two video producers and a news editor. The majority of the staff – seven full-time employees – worked in Chicago, with five additional employees in New York and two more in Portland and Wisconsin. Robson did not explain yesterday why the new tenure would not affect non-Chicago employees, beyond that it was also important to have “a strong presence in New York”, as a hub of entertainment and head office of G / O.

When a staff member asked for clarification on his choice of words, “You said the Chicago team are ‘invited’, is that an option or is it mandatory? – Robson declined to call the move mandatory. He insisted that the staff “would have the opportunity to come”. They were “certainly not needed,” Robson said. “But jobs are going to move to LA.” Later, when another staff member asked if those who “took the option” of not moving would get severance pay, G / O’s human resources manager, Vanessa Fils-Aimé, intervened: “Yes, absolutely.”

During the call, Robson described his relocation schedule. The company is planning a phased transition, dividing the staff into two groups. The first will be invited from March 2 or before March 2. The second group will follow on May 1st. It is not known how the two will be divided. Anyone who chooses to move from Chicago to Los Angeles will be offered $ 5,000 in relocation costs, while retaining their job title and job responsibilities. A staff member asked if he could move to the New York office instead; the answer was no. Another asked for the rationale, Robson said the company has wanted to “establish a meaningful base” in Los Angeles for a long time. “You know, covering the entertainment industry makes life better, makes the product better, makes everything easier,” he said.

A unit representative from the Writer’s Guild, the site’s union, declined to comment for this story. In a statement to Gawker about the transition, a spokesperson for G / O Media wrote:

AV Club’s move to Los Angeles was scheduled to begin two years ago. We have of course been slowed down by the pandemic, but under the guidance of our new AV Club Editor-in-Chief Scott Robson, a seasoned entertainment industry reporter, we look forward to establishing our new headquarters in Los Angeles early next year. This move will bring the AV Club closer to the industry it covers, allowing the site to grow its entertainment relationships while providing better access to important events and talent.

Like many posts at G / O Media – which also owns Jezebel, The Root, The Onion, Deadspin, Jalopnik, and Kotaku, among others – the AV Club has had a tough few months. In August, staff were notified of Robson’s appointment as new editor in a company-wide email. The news surprised many of the staff, who had not been told about the hiring before it was announced, according to sources who spoke to Gawker anonymously.

Robson, who was hired by a financial publication called the Los Angeles Business Journal and had previously worked at Yahoo! Entertainment, E! Online and AOL Moviefone hit several staff members as an odd choice. On the one hand, there was already an online editor for the first position. After their last editor, Patrick Gomez, left the site in May for the post of editor at Weekly entertainment, the site was managed by its editor, Erik Adams. Many believed Adams, who has worked at the AV Club in various capacities since 2008 and had been its editor since 2019, would take the helm. Instead, he was ignored for Robson.

The weeks after Robson arrived on September 1 were busy for other reasons. In mid-October, G / O Media demanded that its staff return to the office – an announcement so badly received that many employees refused to show up. Weeks later, as Gawker reported at the time, G / O executives removed thousands of images from posts published before 2019, without notifying the editors or editors who had worked on them. At the same time, AV Club was also facing interference from G / O Deputy Editorial Director Lea Goldman, the executive whose oversight of Jezebel, as Gawker reported last month, contributed to the departure of nine. site employees.

Arguably the biggest conflict took place late last month, when G / O management informed two longtime AV Club employees in Los Angeles that their jobs had been cut as part of the ‘a “reorganization”. They were told to apply for different positions or to accept severance pay. Staff members, video producers Cameron Scheetz and Marah Eakin, had worked at the site for seven and 11 years respectively. Scheetz took severance pay; Eakin reapplied, but was later rejected for the new role.

At Thursday’s meeting, these internal tensions came to the fore. Robson conceded that some G / O managers “don’t necessarily have a good background in managing big changes when it comes to AV Club”. He promised to ensure transparency throughout the process, but some staff appeared skeptical. “Obviously, the idea of ​​transparency and communication would be great,” replied one editor, “But, considering what happened with Cameron and Marah, last week was not a big showcase for. that. People are naturally very suspicious.

Another staff member was more explicit:

And with everything that’s been going on with Marah and Cameron and with that, how does the company plan to restore trust with us? Because right now it feels like it’s a bit of one thing after another, where people really have an “option” whether they want to continue working here or not. As an employee of this company, it is very scary to see your coworkers suddenly disappear. I didn’t even know Marah was leaving, until we were just talking about work. So what is the company’s plan for this? To improve morale around the workspace and how we all feel about the business?

Response from Robson: “I’m not sure if I can speak to it at the corporate level at large… All I can tell you is that, like I said earlier, I plan to be as transparent as possible. “

It is not clear how the staff will progress; their union has scheduled a meeting to discuss the options. It seems unlikely that staff will quit en masse, but the forced relocation may have changed the stakes of their workplace conflict. Some staff may be looking for other jobs. Others might take more secretive avenues – according to one source: “Whatever… shit. “