Paper Magazine staffers have criticized its owner, ENTtech’s Tom Florio, for the way he responded to recently departed culture editor Michael Love Michael.
In a statement, they said they will slow their publishing schedule until Florio, the former longtime publisher of Vogue, and management “address the systemic racism” that led to Michael Love Michael’s departure, as well as those of other valued team members of color in recent months.
“We will continue to cover resources and news related to the protests with the understanding that it’s important to use our large platform to advocate for substantive change,” it said, referring to protests nationwide in response to the police killing of George Floyd.
Michael Love Michael took to Twitter on Wednesday to reveal they were leaving the magazine and posted a series of e-mails between them and Florio, who has owned Paper since 2017.
Underneath the words “Muted & listening,” Michael Love Michael wrote, “Been seeing this floating around a lot today. But are you really listening? Yesterday, I left as culture editor at @papermagazine — as the last remaining Black staff editor besides the social media editor. These e-mails with the ceo reveal so much about how Black/POC people are treated. We’re often silent on these issues to protect institutions. No more.”
The e-mail chain began with one that Florio sent to all staffers, stating that recent events and the deep-rooted racial oppression and institutionalized racism they represent have “left us frustrated, angry, sad and frightened,” before listing a number of initiatives Paper was looking into, such as fund-raisers for bailout funds. He also offered staffers more personal days if they needed them.
Michael Love Michael then replied: “I have to say this in response to the new call for greater sensitivity toward Black and POC people. I really missed this energy, because I found it lacking for Black colleagues and POC when they’ve always been right here, all this time. It’s too late for me, as someone who has felt overlooked and wanting to be seen and asking to be seen for at least the past year.”
Among other thoughts, they added that “the fact that none of you who know I’m leaving, for example, are in any way trying to learn more about exactly why I’m leaving — that you won’t even bring it up with the team — only reinforces why I’m leaving: I’m not valued.”
“This show of ally-ship in the wake of this violence, in the face of losing a handful of top Black and POC talent including myself, seems performative at best and hypocritical at worst.”
To this, Florio’s response was: “Thank you for your thoughts. I would have assumed that this would have been an e-mail directed to me but appreciated that you felt the need to share your feelings with the company. On behalf of us all we wish you well and look forward to learning about your next adventure when you are ready to share it.”
Michael Love Michael then responded: “Such a dismissive response to a Black person in light of your supposed efforts to quell racism in this country and at this company, shows that your white privilege has blinded you. Wholly dismissing Black colleagues out-of-hand via company e-mail is also a form of institutional racism.”
Michael Love Michael subsequently received hundreds of messages of support on Twitter and Instagram, including from Paper Magazine’s social media editor.
Through the Paper Magazine Twitter social account, they wrote: “Just so everyone knows: I’m the Black social media editor MLM mentioned and I absolutely stand with them. Nobody here f–ks what the CEO said.”
It also sparked others to come forward, including Hermethia D. Haynes, who posted to Instagram an image of her letter of resignation in mid-February. In the accompanying caption, she explained that like Michael Love Michael, she experienced “great difficulty climbing the media career ladder.”
“I worked 6 months free as an intern at 37 with a 14-year-old and always sought out to be a part of the production team. Every time an opportunity presented itself, my hurdle was moved. I was given off-the-cuff reasons.…I’m overqualified. I need to wait 2 years. But no one else had these boundaries,” she wrote.
“I was eventually hired as the office/h.r./intern manager barely making minimum wage at $35K. I had the title manager though never asked to join manager meetings, unless I was needed for technology. I was allowed to clean feces and stay late to ensure the office would be in comfortable working conditions for my Paper family.
“The production manager said she would hire me on 2 different occasions, but more internal hurdles were moved. I watched every time white people got hired, black people being fired. I never forgave myself when they let a black female colleague go and refused to let her properly gather her things. She hadn’t done anything wrong. I never seen them treat any other employee in this manner. I cried the day I mailed her remaining items.”
She added that while she has no hard feelings toward Paper, she is disappointed. “The company may or may not have known how they were treating us was inappropriate. Perhaps, it was a mistake. It is OK to apologize and it’s never too late to begin again.”
In response to Michael Love Michael’s tweets, WWD understands that Florio, who did not immediately respond to request for comment, held a town hall meeting on Zoom Wednesday with staffers to apologize and hear from other workers about what happened.
It wasn’t until Thursday that he responded to Michael Love Michael’s tweets, stating: “As a media ceo, I appreciate the power of the written word, but this week I gained a lesson in my own failures of communication and yes, self-awareness. First of all, I’m sorry. My words and dismissive tone hurt someone I respect and value & your response reflected that.
“As a leader, my communications also impact the broader Paper community. That’s why, in addition to my private apology to Michael Love Michael, I also want to apologize publicly that my response to their open letter was not more thoughtful and thorough,” he said.
As previously reported by WWD, the print magazine is on hiatus during the pandemic and Florio is yet to decide if it will return.
With COVID-19 impacting ENTtech’s events business Paper Works (the cancellation of the South by Southwest festival alone meant it missed out on a seven-figure sum), Florio has also had to implement cost-saving measures elsewhere in the business, including companywide pay cuts ranging from 20 to 30 percent for the highest-paid employees and a 60 percent reduction for him.