When asked what the work environment was like at Tudum, the editorial operation Netflix gutted with layoffs just months after its creation, a former employee compared it to to a chilling series from another streaming service.
“It’s a super weird, positive environment,” the freshly laid-off staffer told The Daily Beast. “I felt like Adam Scott in Severance.”
On Thursday, Netflix cut at least 10 former staff members (full-time and contractors) just months after aggressively courting them to create Tudum. In addition to getting unceremoniously laid off, the workers are set to receive only a pitiful two weeks’ severance.
Although Tudum launched as part of Netflix’s massive marketing division with the goal of promoting the company’s titles, writers were promised editorial freedom—as well as dream working conditions like astronomical pay and no story or traffic quotas. “I was just like, man, it’s like we’re being treated like magazine writers from 50 years ago,” another source recalled.
Given everything they know now, however, former staffers feel like Netflix set them up to fail with a smile.
Three former Tudum staffers who spoke with The Daily Beast described a chaotic work environment in which they had few metrics by which to measure their success. Even amid an ominous-sounding restructure, all three sources noted, multiple staff members had been promoted, a detail that made the layoffs weeks later even more shocking.
“It’s just like, this was all a fucking lie,” a third source said. “Why do all this? Did they just have money that they had to burn for tax purposes or something, and so they just hired us? They could have at least waited a year.”
When Netflix announced Tudum last December, the company promised readers “a backstage pass that lets you dig deeper into the Netflix films, series, and stars you love!” For the first couple months, things were smooth sailing within the site’s editorial team. “It was just everybody being really supportive of each other’s ideas, trying to make them better,” a former staffer told The Daily Beast. “It was kind of one of those dream situations. It’s like a newsroom on TV.”
Multiple sources praised Evette Dionne, the editorial and publishing manager recruited seven months ago to spearhead Tudum’s culture and trends team, for her skilled and supportive management. Dionne—the only full-time staffer on the team of full-time contractors—was among those laid off Thursday. Her former employees laid the blame not with her, but with the company that hired and then allegedly undermined her. Executives were said to have stymied her efforts to establish the brand in a manner that felt, at least to one of the former staff, “passive-aggressive.” (Dionne did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for an interview.)
“This was one of the most diverse teams that I have worked on in media,” one source said, “and I feel like this is honestly kind of a textbook thing where they put a Black woman in charge of something that they know they’ re not going to support—that they know they’re going to sabotage—and then just let it fail.”
There were signs along the way that Tudum might not be sustainable, the laid-off staff members said.
It didn’t seem great, for instance, that no one at the top apparently thought to have a Twitter account for Tudum ready at launch—or, really, to promote Tudum and its content at all. The content management system couldn’t embed trailers or tweets, and the site launched without author pages or an archive. How did Netflix, a company with a small army of engineers at its disposal who specialize in keeping eyeballs on screens, think this would work?
Writers were also discouraged from writing critically about Netflix series and subjects, or even to quote critiques from the productions themselves, multiple sources said. Cheer Season 2, for instance, included a frank examination of the child pornography charges against Jerry Harris—but Tudum was allegedly not allowed to touch any of it. Other hot-button titles to be avoided allegedly included the sequel to the controversial kidnapping romance 365 Days and Our Father.
“It just kind of seemed like Netflix wanted the controversy but did not want to court it with actual promotion, if that makes sense,” one source said. “They want the views but they didn’t want us to be responsible for the views, which is the whole fucking point.”
The former staffer identified Dave Chappelle’s stand-up special from last fall, The Closer, as a source for Netflix’s trepidation: “Now they’re, like, shy about all the controversial stuff.” Another source said the firestorm surrounding Netflix’s deal with the comedian was never an active editorial discussion only because he did not release a special during their tenure. That said, they added, “People would mention, like, ‘Oh, the Chappelle thing—brutal.’”
Whenever Tudum’s crew asked questions about holes and inconsistencies in Netflix’s strategy, however, they say the Severance vibes kicked in. There were reassuring smiles and a promise that there was totally a plan in the works. Whatever the concern was, it was a work in progress—nothing, nothing at all to worry about.
“Writers were also discouraged from writing critically about Netflix series and subjects, or even to quote critiques from the productions themselves, multiple sources said.”
“Everything was a fucking work in progress,” one former staffer said.
Contrary to some of the Twitter snark surrounding Tudum’s apparent implosion, none of the former staff members who spoke with The Daily Beast joined Tudum under the illusion that it was an unsinkable life raft out of traditional media. They all described feeling skeptical of the opportunity at first; in fact, one source recalled they’d almost turned it down because at the end of the day, Netflix might be Netflix but it’s still a new media company.
But the unimaginable pay was an opportunity that was simply too good to pass up. The hourly pay ranges offered annualized to $124,800 to $176,800, according to an Insider report—enough money to pay off credit card debt and finally start to build savings, dreams that can feel out of reach for even the most seasoned journalists. Besides, this was Netflix. Surely things could hold out at least for the duration of these writers’ and editors’ contracts.
“They have more money than God… There’s glass closets full of Apple products you can just take,” one source said. “There’s a full catered cafeteria, with fridges full of food and drinks. … I was fucking stuffing my backpack [with snacks] every time I left that fucking office.”
Still, the “media PTSD” was real—so whenever something seemed off, the nervousness that all of this could come crashing down resurfaced.
It didn’t help that questions and concerns issued to management regarding the site’s goals and brand identity often prompted only a smile and a question like, “Well, what do you think?” The higher-higher ups, one source said, are “PR people” who have no real clue how to build a newsroom.
“It didn’t help that questions and concerns issued to management regarding the site’s goals and brand identity often prompted only a smile and a question like, “Well, what do you think?””
As another source put it: “If you start a publication and at four months after launch you have to start firing people, I think that’s a pretty good indicator that you don’t know what you’re doing.”
Then came an ominous meeting in March—the same month the company’s chief marketing officer of two years, Bozoma Saint John, made her high-profile exit amid reported restructures. Tudum faced a reconfiguration of its own as well. Writers and editors previously told they could write about anything they want allegedly found themselves assigned to arbitrary beats like crime and science fiction. And suddenly everyone’s work had to be “title-focused,” one source said—whereas originally, teams like culture and trends had been encouraged to focus on meatier work that went beyond straightforward promo.
As soon as Netflix’s stock took a major hit last week, the alarm bells really began to ring—especially when the company declared a “quiet week.”
Some employees began to realize something was friends Thursday when they noticed that Evette Dionne’s account had been deactivated on Slack. As colleagues frantically texted and the calls began trickling in from the agency that administered their contracts, the reality sank in: Dionne, as well as Tudum’s culture and trends team, had been let go.
“It’s kind of one of those situations where in hindsight, everything makes sense,” one of the former staffers said.
Netflix addressed the layoffs with a statement as brief as Tudum’s run: “Our fan website Tudum is an important priority for the company.” (The streamer did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for further comment.)
The cuts appear to have largely hit Tudum but include at least one Netflix staffer outside that operation—Gabrielle Korn, who helmed the company’s social media account Most for two years, announced Thursday on Twitter that she’d been let go as well.
Reactions to the layoffs have run the gamut from smugness to solidarity. Some journalists, particularly those who cover entertainment, resent their peers who join any of the in-house publications and social channels Netflix has created, at least in part one imagines, to help the company both skirt and drain out negative coverage. Perhaps the most famous detractor, former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter, called Netflix editorial “propaganda in magazine form” in an Insider report published earlier this year.
“The oil companies used to do this sort of thing in the ’70s and ’80s,” Carter said. “’Oil is good.’”
The staffers who spoke with The Daily Beast were all familiar with that narrative. Perhaps unsurprisingly, two of them also unfavorably name-checked Carter during their interviews. “I don’t know what type of stories Vanity Fair has not published because they didn’t want to upset anybody,” one of them said. “But in culture journalism… It’s not like we’re in some basement and we’re washington post reporters or anything like that.”
Another former staffer wondered why these critics seem to feel little empathy for their peers in an often exploitative industry. “I just sometimes think, like, show a little solidarity for your comrades, my guys,” they said.
“I’m just editing or writing a little piece on The Ultimatum or some other shit,” the former staffer added. “How am I Exxon? It’s like, if you’re mad, direct that where it belongs—direct that to Netflix. Don’t direct that to the people, your colleagues, that they exploited.”
It has not escaped notice that while building out Tudum, Netflix primarily recruited professionals of color, some of whom had vibrant social media presences. As the former staffer put it, “We’re often the ones in the trenches doing all the hard work while other people are like getting the applause.” By making such hires, Netflix built cache for both itself and this new editorial arm—and by putting them first in line out the door as the company’s stuck plummets, the streamer has made clear how little it actually valued their work.
“I feel that we were led astray and that we were taken advantage of because we were mostly a team of color, mostly women,” one of the former staffers said.
“I kept getting told, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s great! But also, do more,’” the source added.
At this point, the former staffers’ primary goal is to secure a better severance package—one that might actually help cover the expenses they’ll face as they plan next steps. Some Tudum writers and editors relocated to more expensive areas for their jobs; others left stable jobs and turned down freelance work. To send them packing with a mere two weeks’ pay, one of them said, is “pretty evil”—especially when the executives in Netflix’s corner offices make so much more.
“I don’t rejoice when something like CNN+ gets shit-canned,” another source said. “I don’t join when Quibi gets shit-canned. I don’t rejoice when people took a chance and were offered something they’d never been offered before, a dream situation, and they get fucking destroyed.”
“How are we the assholes?” they asked. “Fucking capitalism is the asshole. These companies are the assholes.”