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Insider January 20, 2023 — Vox Media layoffs hit its audio creators

Vox Media laid off 7 percent of its staff, including the Cover Story team.

I could pretend to be perky, but I am not sure who that serves. Since you are all media freaks, you have likely seen the news that Vox Media, the parent company of The Verge and Hot Pod, laid off 7 percent of staffers today. That might be paltry compared to the 12,000 people who were laid off by Google today. But for the media world, it’s sizable. I was not laid off, but a lot of my colleagues were. That includes people who worked on audio across Vox Media and many more who did not.

Vox Media layoffs impact audio departments

This morning, Vox Media announced it is laying off about 130 people, or 7 percent of its workforce. The reason given for the cuts will be familiar to those of you who have been following layoffs across audio and media more generally.

“Unfortunately, in this economic climate, we’re not able to sustain projects and areas of the business that have not performed as anticipated, are less core to where we see the biggest opportunities in the coming years, or where we don’t have enough rationale to support ongoing investment in what could be a prolonged downturn,” CEO Jim Bankoff said in the email.

It is my understanding that at least seven audio workers were laid off, including two from Vox, two from SB Nation, and the three staffers that produced Cover Story at New York Magazine. Vox Media spokesperson Lauren Starke declined to provide exact figures. Cover Story, a well-reported true-crime podcast that is much better than your average true-crime podcast, was a high-profile entry for NYM when it launched in 2021. 

As I have previously speculated, news organizations that invested in audio during the boom times could scale back those endeavors when money gets tight. Vox Media is still a big player in the podcasting space, but it is unfortunately not shocking that audio was one of the areas that experienced cuts. 

“The layoffs today included a small number of audio employees, but do not change Vox Media’s long-term podcast strategy and commitment to audio,” Starke told Hot Pod.

Vox Media’s layoffs follow similar cuts elsewhere in the audio world. With NPR cutting its internship program and recent layoffs at Gimlet and Parcast, there are fewer opportunities for anyone in the business of making shows.

Gen Z thinks radio is cool, but they don’t actually listen to it

This week, Edison Research released a new report on the media consumption habits of Gen Z, and there is some good news in there for podcasting. Nearly half of respondents ages 12 to 24 said they are monthly podcast listeners, compared to just over one-third of respondents age 25 and up. They are also less likely to take personal podcast recommendations from either people they know or hosts they listen to and more inclined to just search for shows on YouTube. That sounds bleak to me but may actually be more conducive to discovery.

The study also asked Gen Z respondents to qualify various things as cringe or cool. For example, meditation, Dungeons & Dragons, and YouTube are cool. Meanwhile, NFTs, Elon Musk, and TikTok dances are cringe (hard agree!). Right near the top of the list of cool is radio.

But despite its cache, radio listening among people ages 12 to 24 is much, much lower than those age 25 and above. When asked to break down how much time they spent listening to various audio media, Gen Z respondents said they only spent 15 percent of their time listening to AM/FM radio. That is compared to 35 percent going to music streaming and 24 percent going to YouTube. Among respondents age 25 and up, AM/FM radio still held the largest share at 43 percent.

TikTok is testing out podcasting (kinda?)

This is no shock, considering TikTok was actively hiring for a podcast team a few months ago. Business Insider reported this week that the social platform is testing a feature where users can listen to videos even when the app is in the background while they do other things on their phone. Currently, TikTok only plays audio when videos are on-screen. 

TikTok is reportedly calling this feature “podcasts,” even though it doesn’t really seem like a format for traditional podcasts? Perhaps that will be part of it, but it appears to be a podcast in the same way that you can minimize a YouTube video and listen to the audio and that is kind of a podcast. I wouldn’t see this as a massive threat to traditional podcasting yet, but that depends on how far TikTok leans into audio. 

It’s been a week. See you Tuesday.