New SI Editors Sent Optimistic Memo Right Before WSJ Broke News of Massive Layoffs

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It unfortunately appears to be another D-Day in the world of digital media today, as it is widely expected that Sports Illustrated will impose massive layoffs on their already decimated staff.

After SI passed from Time Inc. to Meredith to Authentic Brand Groups (ABG), ABG retained the branding IP and re-sold the editorial control to TheMaven, a company run by the ominous pairing of Ross Levinsohn and James Heckman. Earlier this week, editor-in-chief Chris Stone "vacated" his position at SI, and was replaced by Ryan Hunt and Steve Canella.

On Wednesday, Hunt and Canella sent an email to employees that expressed extreme optimism for the future of SI, and promising to communicate clearly amidst a "newsroom rumor mill at peak capacity." The memo was circulated by PR yesterday afternoon. Then at night, the Wall Street Journal reported that about 20 percent of the company or "more than 40" workers would be laid off.

This morning, Deadspin reported that as much as 50 percent of the staff could be laid off. They noted that SI emailed its staff about a "transition meeting", but that there were two different versions of the email with different times of said meeting, leading them to believe this was a draconian way of indicating a safe group and a dead group. Here is the email that SI editors Hunt and Canella sent Wednesday afternoon:

HI everyone. For nearly two years now, Sports Illustrated has been operating in transition mode – continuing to produce excellent work on every platform while awaiting new owners, new vision, new strategy and a new future. Yesterday, we took a big step toward that future. The two of us are beyond excited that Maven has asked us to lead the most trusted and storied brand in sports media into its next chapter. Our goal is simple: to double down on the best of what Sports Illustrated has always been known for—unparalleled journalism and powerful storytelling—while creating a new company that’s built for success in the 21st century and beyond. Maven could have gone in many directions with their choice of new leadership. It’s both humbling and empowering to know that they trust us to build the bridge to the new SI. We hope we have that trust from all of you too. You should know that with everything we do we intend to earn and keep it.

To that end, we’ve been working overtime with Ross Levinsohn and the rest of Maven team on strategy and planning for the new SI. Here’s what those plans will entail: One newsroom built around investment in quality journalism and the tools needed to tell those stories. A more robust digital platform that brings SI’s name and prestige to coverage of pro and college teams at the local level. A magazine that looks, feels and reads like the premium product that our stories and our audience deserve. A newsroom that produces best-in-class work every day, whether it’s speedy and unique analysis of breaking news, a longform feature six months in the making or in-depth local coverage of your favorite team. (Every team is somebody’s favorite.)

For now, these are plans and strategies: We can’t start building the new SI and executing this vision until ABG, Maven and Meredith complete negotiations on the agreement allowing Maven to take operational control of Sports Illustrated. All three parties are working hard to get that deal done as quickly as possible. And until Maven assumes control of SI, it’s difficult to outline those plans and strategies with as much specificity as we’d all like.

We know you have questions, and we know the newsroom rumor mill is at peak capacity. We know how uneasy everyone in the newsroom feels, and we promise to communicate as clearly as we can at every step in this process. We thank you for the patience and poise you’ve shown as a group not just in recent days, but throughout this long transition period for SI. It’s a testament to all of you that our audience, which knows us only by the work we produce, is probably unaware of how many distractions we’ve dealt with as a company.

Which brings us to Chris Stone, who, as you all know, is stepping away as Editor in Chief. Chris’s steady hand and leadership have been instrumental in keeping SI on track—in his seven years as Managing Editor and EIC and in his 27 overall years with SI. We’ll miss him in these halls, and our institutional knowledge of the 1978 Red Sox statistical record is taking a huge hit. (Ask him, he’ll explain.) But his passion for Sports Illustrated and his dedication to our signature journalism and storytelling will help power this place for years to come.

Some time soon we will gather to give Chris a proper sendoff. In the meantime: we appreciate the support, patience and commitment to SI all of you continue to show. Tomorrow morning we will get the staff together to discuss all of this more and answer as many questions as we can. Keep an eye out later today for time and location details.

We’re looking forward to building something special here. We hope you are too.

Ryan and Steve

If the reported magnitude of the cuts prove to be accurate, it will be particularly gutting for a legacy brand and yet another indication of the turbulence of this industry. Our hearts are with SI staffers on this gloomy day.