Medium Has Pivoted Again

Firing dozens of editorial staff after a nearly successful union drive, but is Substack the real cause?

This is a bit of a departure from the Work Futures focus on work, however, considering my history with Medium, I am sharing it here.

I also include a few bits of other material, at the end.

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Ev Williams is once again dropping a push for publications on Medium after a few years. And that is taking place after a failed (but almost successful) unionization drive at the platform. That could have been the final straw for Williams, who has clearly been watching the rise of Substack.

But he couches this in a strange way saying Medium was never going after a ‘traditional publishing model’ when he’s been trying to grow a batch of publications for the past few years. He wrote,

Our goal was never to replicate the traditional publishing model because we saw the challenges the industry was going through. Rather, we believed we could find a new model that would allow professional writers and editors to do their best work.

He admits failing to accomplish what he had hoped to do, which is what all publications seek to do: to develop loyal audiences.

The bet was that we could develop these brands, and they would develop loyal audiences that would grow the overall Medium subscriber base. What’s happened, though, is the Medium subscriber base has continued to grow, while our publication’s audiences haven’t.

So, he has developed a platform with over 200 million monthly readers, but they aren’t (supposedly) reading the publications’ content. They’re reading instead the posts that the (unpaid) members are creating?

Medium is organized at the present like an all-you-can-eat buffet, not a restaurant guided by the vision of the chef in the kitchen.

So now he wants to pivot to being something like Substack? But Medium is organized at the present like an all-you-can-eat buffet, not a restaurant guided by the vision of the chef in the kitchen. You pay $5 a month to read everything, and the money is distributed penny by penny by an algorithm to the authors you applaud. Does he plan to enable direct subscriptions, a la Substack? It sounds like it:

For the foreseeable future, we will focus that talent on supporting independent voices on our platform. This means identifying writers — both already on Medium and not — and offering them deals, support, editing, and feedback to help them tell great stories and find them tell great stories and find their audience.

But the question confronting these ‘voices’ is whether they should trust Williams to stick with a new business model for more than a year or two.

Casey Newton does some detective work and talks to various folks on the inside, in The mess at Medium. He also cites The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium, 2012–present | Laura Hazard Owen for the history through march 2019.



New Zealand Approves Paid Leave After Miscarriage | Natasha Frost reports on breakthrough legislation in New Zealand.

New Zealand’s Parliament on Wednesday unanimously approved legislation that would give couples who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth three days of paid leave, putting the country in the vanguard of those providing such benefits.



Citi Creates ‘Zoom-Free Fridays’ to Combat Covid-19 Pandemic Fatigue | Anna Schaverien provides some research behind Citi, one of the largest banks, to create Zoom-Free Fridays:

Complaints of “Zoom fatigue” have emerged across industries and classrooms in the past year, as people confined to working from home faced schedules packed with virtual meetings, and found that their hours of on-camera work were often followed up by long video catch-ups with friends.

The widespread feeling of burnout prompted research from Stanford University trying to explain why video calls felt so draining.

In a peer-reviewed article published in the journal Technology, Mind and Behavior last month, Professor Jeremy Bailenson, the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, outlined several reasons video calls can be so much more exhausting than in-person conversations.

He found that the excessive eye contact involved in video calls, the unnatural situation of seeing ourselves on-screen and having to stay in the same fixed spot all contribute toward “Zoom fatigue.”

Video calls are also harder mental work for us, Professor Bailenson said in a news release, because we have to put in more effort to make and interpret nonverbal communications. “If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up,” he said. “That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”

Dr. Aaron Balick, a psychotherapist and the author of “The Psychodynamics of Social Networking,” said a key mistake companies made when setting up work-from-home conditions last year was to treat Zoom calls as the equivalent of face-to-face meetings. He said that they failed to consider the additional mental burden placed on workers and the downtime needed to process what was said between calls.

“They require different intellectual muscles,” Dr. Balick said in an interview on Wednesday, adding that Zoom calls needed to be treated as a “functionally different thing.”


NLRB withdraws proposal to prevent grad students from unionizing | Ryan Golden looks into a turnaround at the National Labor Relations Board from Trump-era policies:

The National Labor Relations Board withdrew March 12 a proposed rule that would have made graduate students ineligible to unionize under federal law, according to a statement.

The proposal, which had been published in The Federal Register in September 2019 and corrected in October 2019, would have established that students who perform services for compensation — such as teaching or research — at a private or public university in connection with their studies, are not considered "employees" under the National Labor Relations Act.

"The Board has decided to withdraw this rulemaking proceeding at this time in order to focus its limited resources on competing Agency priorities, including the adjudication of unfair labor practice and representation cases currently in progress," NLRB said in the statement.