Two years ago, Axios, a unique media company based in Washington, DC, said police “supported and encouraged” workers who took to the streets in protest after the assassination of George Floyd, even promising to release them from prison if they were arrested.
In June 2020, Axios told staff, “We proudly support and encourage you to exercise your right to freedom of speech, press and protest.” “If you are arrested or have suffered a loss while exercising these rights, Axios will stand behind you and use family funds to cover your bail or help with medical bills.
It was recognized as a break from the traditional media policy that calls on journalists to prioritize their right to protest, their well-being and the stagnant version of objectivity on the welfare of their fellow citizens. And considering how newsrooms work to create the traditional notions of journalism, Axios’ statement was seen as a breakthrough.
“We trust our colleagues to do the right thing, and will stand firmly behind them if they decide to exercise their constitutional right to freedom of speech,” said Jim Vandehei, founder of Axios.
Two years later, Axios shows up licking his finger, it gets stuck in the air and decides that the protest is no longer vibe. In a memo to staff on Monday, the subject line was “It’s hard [heart emoji]Axios told staff that the company does not support anyone joining the abortion protest.
“Many have asked why we allowed people to join the protest after the assassination of George Floyd but discouraged it for or against abortion,” the memo said. “First of all, for those who were not here at the time, there are issues: what we have said is that we will stand by the call for racial justice and equality.” This was before the debate over specific policy solutions. It was a moment of unity.
It doesn’t make sense. Defender spoke to several Axios employees who said a lot, but spoke publicly about the memo, fearing they would lose their jobs. One employee indicated that they did not find the memo to discourage not only because it returned what they saw as a fair and progressive policy, but also because it betrayed a fundamental misconception about the 2020 racial justice protest. The actions of those who joined the protests were always political. It is as insulting for Axios to reduce that movement as a “momentary moment of unity” in an attempt to move away from its employees’ commitment to their right to full citizenship.
Defector received the memo, written by Vandehei, Axios Editor-in-Chief Sara Gu and Axios Human Resources Chief Dominic Taylor. It reads in full:
The funniest part of this embarrassment is that the memo is written in Axios’ lobotomized house style. The company believes that their dumb-down format is the best way to cover the news and communicate the necessary information of a story so it means that all their internal memos should be formatted in the same way; They could not have typed this memo in a simple human way without explicitly rejecting their own very strange way of talking to readers.
The funniest part about it is that it makes sense for Axios employees. Will they be fired for exercising their right to protest? Why were employees committed to marching in 2020 without a “trumpeting policy in public” but not now? Was Axios’ position really apolitical in its protest against racial justice in the summer of 2020? What about Axios employees who live in states where abortion is prohibited? Will Axios’ “Family Fund”, which was previously offered to cover the costs of bail for anyone arrested during a protest, be used to cover travel costs for abortion in another state?
I put this last question in Axios flacks. They saw my email, sent last night, 34 times at the time of publication of this post but did not reply. I’ll update when I hear back.