There was a time when Salon was the go-to site for thoughtful, intelligent analysis from the left on subjects ranging from politics, to the media, to pop culture. That, however, was long ago; these days all that's left of that storied era are a few really terrific columnists still holding down the fort and the occasional interesting piece submitted by a freelance outsider. Salon was more than happy to stomp on its legacy from around 2012 to 2015, the period in which the internet magazine switched from being an intellectual heavyweight to being the web's premier destination for all your ridiculous outrage porn needs. But now it seems to be signaling a willingness to pummel whatever was left of its reputation by torching itself from the inside out.
Two days ago, word went out via an internal memo from publisher David Daley that big, painful cuts were coming within Salon. We now know what some of those cuts are: six staffers have been fired, including managing editor Ruth Henrich, a nearly 20-year veteran of Salon who's just about universally beloved within the organization. “Salon Media Group took steps that we believe will put the company on a stronger path forward,” Salon CEO Cindy Jeffers said in response to the layoffs. “We made the difficult decision to reduce our staff, in addition to other budgetary cuts. We hope these steps will move us in the direction of profitability and align us more closely with our strategy.”
Now certainly trying to keep a website afloat is a daunting and often frustrating proposition. We here at The Daily Banter understand that implicitly. We've had to make cutbacks and changes that have often come as the result of a single undeniable fact about writing online these days: your economic solvency is tied almost exclusively to Facebook's algorithmic whims. We've gone through plenty of phases where we trawled for traffic and where we were stuck having to make tough choices to keep our heads above water. It's the nature of the beast. And we don't have even a shred of the traffic, staffing and, yes, capital that Salon has had almost since its inception and definitely as it grew to prominence.
But throughout it all we tried to keep one thing in mind: the quality of the content had to be something we were proud of -- or at the very least not ashamed of. The notion that Salon would fire someone like Ruth Henrich, who remains highly respected by those who helped turn Salon into the liberal powerhouse it was for so long, while continuing to shell out money for shameless click-bait columns from the likes of H.A. Goodman and Nico Lang or the various clueless millennials the site continues to both publish and employ as staffers, is fucking tragic. It's practically a trope that at some point in journalism you'll be replaced by younger faces who know less but will also work for less, but you'd think with Salon's ongoing touting of its liberal bona fides that it would try to be the exception rather than the rule in that regard.
I'm definitely not the only one who feels this way. When the news broke about the mini-bloodbath yesterday, former Salon contributor and editor-in-chief Joan Walsh made her disapproval known on Twitter. "The heart and soul of @salon, Ruth Henrich, lost her job there today after 18 fine, loyal, brilliant years. It's so awful," she wrote. But that was only the beginning. She continued to hit Salon hard, saying, "Hope there's still money for Camille Paglia and HA Goodman... Right?" and "apologizing" to those who are still at the site doing "great work." Walsh then retweeted a steady stream of knocks at Salon's "slow, sad decline." "I hear Salon was once a great and respected institution, as opposed to the left's Breitbart," wrote one person. "Please tell (me) that Salon is going to stop publishing immediately after apologizing to the planet for their idiocy?" wrote another.
Remember, this is coming from the site's former editor-in-chief.
Ex-Salon film critic Stephanie Zacharek barely contained her hostility at the news of Henrich's firing. "Just found out that Ruth Henrich was laid off from Salon, after 18 years. I'm biting my tongue to keep from saying what I really want to say," she tweeted, following it up with, "It's the work of heartless, craven idiots." Even Glenn Greenwald took time out from desperately trying to find one more story in the Edward Snowden leaks to call Henrich "truly fantastic" and claim that someone will pick her up. I know that throughout the years my good friend, Salon columnist Mary Beth Williams, has had nothing but positive things to say about Ruth Henrich, all of this meaning to give you some idea of what was lost on Tuesday when the ax fell hard.
Over the past several years, Salon's been a genuinely schizophrenic place. On the one hand -- and in the interest of full disclosure -- they publish the likes of our own Bob Cesca, as well as Mary Beth and writers like Simon Maloy and former contributors Steve Kornacki and Brian Beutler. On the other hand, it took Patton Oswalt finally sitting down with David Daley and profoundly, publicly shaming him -- after the site had inexplicably made the comic its personal bête noire for months -- for Salon to finally turn slightly away from the era in which it trafficked almost entirely in bullshit outrage and in pointing out any and all things "problematic."
Remember, there were a few years there where Salon published articles with headlines like "The Legend of Zelda' Is Classist, Sexist and Racist," "'The Conjuring: Right-Wing, Woman-Hating and Really Scary" and "The Onion Thinks Incest, Statutory Rape Is Hilarious." It was just four months ago that you could regularly read Brittney Cooper's "everything is racist" ravings at Salon and it was Salon that gave a platform to both serial plagiarist and anti-Islamophobia punchline C.J. Werleman and #CancelColbert lunatic Suey Park. Hell, even after a year of being criticized for subsisting on the Tumblr-crowd's bottomless reservoir of melodramatic umbrage, it kicked off 2015 with a first-person story from one of its most irritating millennial staffers about a "rape joke" she heard at a party that caused her to go into an all-out existential tailspin.
This is what the once-great Salon allowed itself to become. And now it's laying off veterans from its glory days for -- what? -- so that it can continue to fund crap? That's certainly what Joan Walsh and others from the site's heyday seem to think. And honestly, at this point it's tough to argue with them.