In the summer of 2020, Condé Nast launched Condé Nast Audio with a slate of flagship podcasts planned for WIRED, Vogue, and Pitchfork. We are the producers, editors, and engineers who worked to report, produce, and refine these shows from start to finish.
As of January 2021, not a single one of us still works for Condé Nast.
We’re writing this open letter for two reasons. First, we hope companies investing in audio will learn from the mistakes of Condé Nast’s mismanagement. Second, we want people who work in audio to understand how the executives currently responsible for audio at Condé Nast Entertainment (or CNE, the magazine conglomerate’s internal studio) might treat them.
From the beginning, executives at CNE insisted on launching three podcasts in quick succession with the production staff recommended for a single show. The results of this decision snowballed into larger foundational issues that led to skilled producers leaving their jobs. The team members who remained continued to be overworked and exhausted.
The production team advocated for more staff, in order to be able to create highly produced, marketable audio without pulling regular all-nighters. CNE agreed to hire additional audio producers on long-term temporary assignments without clear end dates, citing a hiring freeze preventing the company from bringing them on as salaried employees with benefits.
After the much-needed staff infusion, shows reached sustainable production flows and began looking towards the new year. The audio team asked upper management about future budgeting and staffing for the shows. We were met with little to no communication. Meetings were repeatedly scheduled and cancelled by CNE executives without acknowledgment, and planning emails were met with long periods of silence from upper management.
The first audio production team to learn its future was The Pitchfork Review. After teasing the possibility of a full-time staff position for weeks, executives told Pitchfork’s producers their jobs would be replaced by an outside production company starting the next business day, and their only option for continued employment at the company was to start transitioning immediately to the WIRED team.
After the abrupt changes to Pitchfork Review, audio producers on the other two shows requested better communication going forward with Get WIRED and In Vogue. In December, only days from a holiday break, Vogue’s producers’ assignments were ended without warning, via email, with two days’ notice. Upper management offered the Get WIRED team an extension for a few weeks in January, while refusing to elaborate on any other future plans. The production team sent back a counter proposal, were met with a prompt cancellation of the original offer, and their assignments were immediately ended. There was no additional communication from CNE.
Despite the challenges during our short time making podcasts for Condé Nast, we are proud of the work we made. In Vogue told a deeply reported 13-part series about how the fashion industry transformed in the 1990s — and a young, diverse team of producers worked hard to tell the story of the decade in a more inclusive way than Vogue’s historical coverage. Get WIRED featured illuminating dives into the worlds of poker tournaments, sex toys, and pandemic parenthood that deepened our listeners’ understandings of technology and the future. The Pitchfork Review featured nuanced conversations about hyperpop, COVID’s impact on the live music industry, and the history of protest music.
While the experiences we’re sharing took place while working for CNE, we know that the conditions we met are not unique to this company. Professional audio work is undervalued across our industry, and both the people and the shows suffer. Here are some lessons we hope people managing other audio initiatives might learn from our experience:
- Invest in the people who make the work. In order to create a podcast megahit, production teams need to be staffed appropriately to put in the requisite time and care at the heart of any successful show. If companies adequately invest in producers with fair pay and a supportive and honest working environment, producers will return that investment in their work.
- Respect the collaborative process. Creating an effective collaboration between producers, reporters, hosts, and editors takes time. When producers are abruptly assigned to switch from one show to another, or replaced by an outside production company, executives forfeit the trust and creativity forged in that creative collaboration. If contractors are treated as disposable or interchangeable, the shows suffer.
- Communicate with integrity. Audio editors, producers, and engineers hired on contract should have clear end dates and transparency around their candidacy for full-time positions. When executives leave audio makers in the dark about our futures, they prevent us from planning for podcasts’ future successes, and deny themselves the collective expertise of their teams who might offer possible budgetary solutions.
We believe that Condé Nast could have a bright future in audio. However, we don’t foresee success for this or any audio initiative that doesn’t respect its producers, editors, engineers, or the creative work they’re making. It is no secret that the audio industry has exploded over the past decade, and as that happened there have been both unavoidable and very preventable growing pains.
To anyone considering hiring people to make audio, you have the power to be part of a transformation. We see an opportunity for a paradigm shift in the audio industry, one that prioritizes good labor practice, inclusive and diverse workspaces, and equitable collaboration. We can create that better industry now.
Mickey Capper, former Get WIRED producer
Kinsey M. Clarke, former In Vogue producer
Ninna Gaensler-Debs, former Get WIRED editor
Megan Lubin, former In Vogue producer
Ben Montoya, former producer for Pitchfork Review and Get WIRED
Caitlin Pierce, former Pitchfork Review senior producer
Aja Simpson, former Get WIRED assistant producer
Anna Stitt, former Get WIRED senior producer
Maura Walz, former In Vogue editor
Todd Whitney, former Pitchfork Review editor
Tarkor Zehn, former In Vogue associate producer
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org