It's been about a week since the Wall Street Journal reported that Bill Simmons has had early talks about selling The Ringer to Spotify, and the union is expressing frustration that they've been met with silence when they try to find out what's going on as far as their jobs are concerned. After tweeting about the matter on Tuesday, two more days of non-communication led the union to do the same on Thursday:
On Wednesday, Molly Lambert, a culture writer who worked under Simmons' umbrella at Grantland but not The Ringer, sent a thread of since-deleted tweets: "imagine still posting content on twitter without talking to your staff who you've left in the lurch," she tweeted. "Grantland ended very badly this way because of some backstabbing cowards, really hope they don't do @RingerUnion the same exact way. if you want to present your staff as a fun friend group, be an actual friend. I would say I can't believe the audacity of ringer management to treat the staff like this but unfortunately I can, because it's what they also did to us."
Lambert finished with a tweet referring to Simmons' announcement Ringer Films and HBO are collaborating on a music documentary series that will be in the vein of 30 for 30, saying, "making professional announcements on your twitters while stonewalling your staff about the future of their jobs is truly coward shit, I stand with the @RingerUnion."
The longer this draws out, the uglier it could get.
Where this goes from here is hard to predict. I'm sensitive to The Ringer editorial staff considering our site just went through a sale a year ago and the period of limbo is anxious for everyone involved. Elements of a sale, like what an acquirer will do with the brand and the people who work there, become out of Simmons' control if he does sell and it's no longer his company. It's obviously almost certain that he'd remain as a talent and an editorial authority for Ringer, but he'd have bosses to answer to above.
As the person who put his financial and editorial capital at risk in this venture, the decision to sell or not is ultimately his to make. Nevertheless, if he does cash out for nine figures and Spotify or someone else does decide to eliminate a lot of jobs -- as of now, whether either element of this happens remains a complete unknown -- that would be a less aspirational stewardship of his employees' careers than has been his reputation for about the past decade.
What seems probable is that The Ringer union is not going to get a level of clarity that everybody feels comfortable with. The question then becomes what they plan to do about it.
Individuals, of course, are free to pursue other opportunities, and a number of people have exited in recent months. College basketball personalities Mark Titus and Tate Frazier left and have since landed at Fox Sports. Culture writer Kate Knibbs left for Wired. NBA editor Danny Chau and music writer Lindsay Zoladz are also no longer with the site.
But collectively, what can they do? In a dire enough situation, perhaps the union could issue an ultimatum and, if demands aren't met, strike or walk out. However, in many cases in media, when an organization voluntarily recognizes a union, there is an agreement for there to be no lockout or strike. If this is the case with Ringer Union, then this would not be an option for them as a form of leverage. Non-strike and non-lockout provisions are also common in completed deals, and that's why you don't see the G/O Media union striking -- Deadspin's staff quit en masse.
Jason Gordon, the director of communications for WGA East, which operates the Ringer Union, declined comment in response to an email sent Thursday afternoon from The Big Lead seeking clarity about whether the union previously agreed not to strike during negotiations after recognition.
With that option out the window, they could hope that Simmons comes around and gives them what they deem to be a satisfactory explanation on his own. Another possibility is that workers there start to do what Vox employees did with CEO Jim Bankoff, having a high portion of the staff tagging him in tweets about union matters. Whether they'd do that and whether it would accomplish anything also remain to be seen, and we'll continue to monitor the situation.