The weekend before last, IGN published and then pulled a post with links to charities in support of Palestinian victims who’d been devastated by Israeli violence. This spurred over 80 IGN staffers to sign and publish an open letter decrying corporate management’s subversion of their editorial autonomy and demanding accountability. At first it seemed like staffers would get their wish. Now, however, things have taken a turn.
Today, both Vice and Fanbyte reported on an internal memo sent to IGN staff in which chief content officer and site co-founder Peer Schneider—who’d previously implied that corporate was listening to editorial’s grievances over what seemed to be corporate interference—made an about face and placed the blame for the post’s removal on editorial.
“While our post impacts everyone at our company, this is a clear editorial process and department issue and to imply otherwise is incorrect and distracts from our goal,” said Schneider according to Vice’s report, which sources, who chose to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, have confirmed to Kotaku is accurate. “We own the power and ability to resolve this.”
This version of events conveniently removes IGN owner J2 Global and publisher Ziff Davis from what was beginning to look like a very complicated equation. In an all-hands meeting yesterday, Ziff Davis president Steve Horowitz echoed Schneider’s claims, saying that “nobody else at J2 or Ziff Davis ordered the post to go down,” nor did he. Instead, he pinned the blame on editorial as a whole, suggesting that some employees were upset by “the post and by the imagery” but that they “didn’t feel comfortable speaking up.”
The solution to all of this, according to Horowitz, will involve bringing in an ombudsman. According to Vice, a team made up of volunteers who both signed and did not sign the open letter decrying the Palestine post’s removal will be responsible for selecting an ombudsman who will, effectively, hold the publication accountable.
A source further told Kotaku that the selection team will not solely be comprised of editorial staffers—instead representing “the entire IGN staff as full staff was represented in the posts”—and that it will be split proportionally so as to represent the two-thirds of employees who didn’t sign the open letter and the one-third who did. According to Fanbyte, Horowitz also used that ratio as evidence that most people at the company didn’t support the Palestine post, neglecting to acknowledge that many staffers might not want to paint targets on their own backs by attaching their names to something so openly opposed to their own bosses.
Vice and Fanbyte’s reports characterize the current mood among IGN editorial employees as dejected and demoralized, perhaps more so than ever before. While multiple IGN editorial sources who spoke to Kotaku challenged that characterization, it does not seem like many are satisfied with how all of this has played out.
“Ziff Davis and J2 leadership has tried to absolve themselves from having any part of it, despite stepping into the situation,” one source said to Kotaku. “We’re reiterating this is about our editorial independence, as it always has been, and the continued lack of transparency around what happened with a sensitive story. Worse, the story keeps changing, and I don’t know what to believe.”