Sports Illustrated Union: Maven's Contributor Network Is 'Exploitative and Antithetical' to Journalism

“Maven has cut vital personnel and resources from our full-time staff, while expanding a contractor model that is exploitative and antithetical to the principles of sound journalism,” the SI Union says in open letter

Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

The Sports Illustrated Union has pushed back against publisher Maven for its network of contributing bloggers, writing in an open letter on Wednesday that the system is “exploitative and antithetical” to journalism and in need of a proper vetting process.

“Over the past year, Maven has cut vital personnel and resources from our full-time staff, while expanding a contractor model that is exploitative and antithetical to the principles of sound journalism. It incentivizes high-churn clickbait, and we have repeatedly raised concerns to management about the insufficient vetting and oversight of these contributors. We continue to believe SI’s coverage should be provided by full-time journalists,” the union wrote in a letter to Maven and ABG, which owns Sports Illustrated but has given management rights to Maven. “So long as this contributor network exists, though, we call on Maven to provide fair compensation and establish uniform standards and best practices.”

Maven, a tech company that gained publishing rights to Sports Illustrated last year, brought on layoffs and a new publishing model to SI that included hundreds of affiliate sites — run by independent contractors and freelancers — focused on the coverage of a specific team.

The union called on Maven to properly vet its contributors in the same manner that full-time SI staff would be. They asked to ensure that contributors who operate smaller team-specific websites are not allowed to “publish stories that have not been reviewed and edited, mirroring the editorial standards in SI’s newsroom” and to ensure that those team-site operators are paid without having their compensation “tied to traffic metrics or site revenue.”

“If these basic thresholds cannot be met, Maven should take the team-site network off the SI.com platform,” the letter said.

The staff union also requested a “transparent account” of how Maven vetted a contributor who was referenced in a Monday piece from the Daily Beast, which reported that one of Maven’s contributors had pleaded guilty about a decade ago to having a relationship with a student when he was a high-school teacher.

“This incident follows multiple instances of plagiarism, unprofessional behavior and inaccurate reporting across the Maven network of contractor-operated team sites, which are published and promoted on SI.com,” the letter said. “All of these episodes are embarrassing to the brand and inconsistent with a reputation built over decades, and they undercut the credibility of SI staff journalists.”

The union has requested that Maven and ABG respond to their requests by Aug. 24. Spokespersons for Maven and ABG did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s requests for comment.

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