Hearst is restructuring its digital department. Although specific details remain unclear, the new strategy calls for a “newsier presence” and building “stronger relationships” between Hearst properties.
Earlier this week, Hearst let two top editors go and then promptly touted new digital hires. The reorganization comes not long after Troy Young, who came to Hearst from Say Media, was appointed to the newly created position of president of digital media at the company.
On Tuesday morning, Elle.com editor Amina Akhtar tweeted news that she had been laid off. She was soon joined by Cosmopolitan digital director Abby Gardner. That evening, Hearst announced that BuzzFeed fashion editor Amy Odell had been named the editor of Cosmopolitan.com and that Leah Chernikoff, the editorial director of Fashionista.com, was hired to edit Elle.com. Hearst also announced that Spin Media’s Annie Fox would become director of programming, where her mandate will be to “evolve stronger community connections and expand the network of contributors.”
“We’re focusing on editorial, design, and media platforms to create stronger relationships between our properties and their communities, and building a stronger, newsier presence, which means making choices and creating new opportunities,” Mr. Young said in an email to The Observer. “We’re continuing to hire for roles that will move our strategy forward, and you’ll see our site experiences evolve quickly.”
“Making choices and creating new opportunities” sounds like a euphemism for more layoffs, something corroborated by multiple Hearst sources (Hearst didn’t return a request for more details).
But the digital restructuring (and subsequent editorial reshuffling) doesn’t seem to be motivated by a quest for more page views.
“Digital is a huge area of growth and investment for us, and we’re having our most profitable year ever,” Mr. Young said. In an email announcing its digital hires, Hearst touted big traffic gains for both women’s titles. “In July, Cosmopolitan.com reached 12.2 million unique visitors, its best month ever. ELLE.com reached 3.4 million unique visitors, up 26% versus last year,” the email read.
According to a Hearst source, it may have more to do with the new digital president than with performance. Mr. Young comes from a digital–and brand– heavy background. Before launching and developing Say Media, Mr. Young was chief experience officer of the Omnicom digital agency Organic. In an interview with the Times after Hearst announced his appointment in May, Mr. Young said his experience was especially useful for the new era of native advertising. Mr. Young had also held board and advisory roles with a slew of digital media, mobile and commerce companies.
“People are fleeing the digital division. No one wants to work for Troy,” a source said, adding that Mr. Young seems to want to bring in new people. “Two general managers are leaving willingly and everyone else is trying to get out.”