Already depressed morale at “fashion bible” WWD hit a new low when a reporter behind a forum letting staffers vent their grievances was unceremoniously canned last week, Media Ink has learned.
Los Angeles-based reporter Kali Hays was let go after four years at the Penske Media-owned fashion trade publication on April 19 amid pressure to delete an online document she had created originally for staffers to talk about newsroom issues, but which devolved into a forum for relentless complaints about the company’s management, including allegations of anti-Semitism, sexism and a general lack of diversity, sources said.
Hays, a media and retail reporter who had been dispatched by WWD to LA two years earlier with a promotion to senior reporter, was informed about her last day on the job by editorial director Jim Fallon. No reason was given, sources said.
Hays, who earlier in her career worked at Law 360, was apparently popular within the company. “She was a good reporter,” said one former colleague.
About six weeks before she was terminated, HR had sent Hays a memo asking that she delete the document, sources said. She refused and sent a company-wide email to about 50 staffers, according to one insider, explaining her refusal to take it down without a more clear explanation about why it should be deleted.
Following Hays’ exit, the document was deleted, sources said.
A Penske spokeswoman declined to comment except to say that she was replaced with another reporter out of New York City.
“WWD had an amazing opportunity to add one of the finest media reporters, Marisa Guthrie, to its NY senior editorial team. It’s disappointing that anyone would attempt to characterize this advancement differently,” a Penske spokeswoman said. Guthrie had been freelancing at the time and earlier in her career worked at The Hollywood Reporter.
Sources said Hays created the document via Google Docs last June — initially with the blessing of the top brass at WWD and its parent company Penske Media — as a forum for staffers to anonymously communicate amid a remote work environment and Black Lives Matter protests that were raising questions about diversity coverage across many media companies.
“It started out with good intentions to raise newsroom issues,” said a source who has accessed the document. “But the comments had grown increasingly caustic and emotional.”
By October, sources said, staffers were using the document to blast a profile that praised diversity efforts by designer John Galliano — who was famously ousted as creative director of Christian Dior following a boozy anti-Semitic rant in Paris in 2011 that had him proclaiming his love for Hitler.
One source noted that not every story on Galliano — who has publicly apologized for the rant and sought help for his alcoholism — requires a mention of the now 10-year-old incident. But the October tribute was viewed as “problematic because this was a story about his diversity efforts — and it was not mentioned,” said the source.
Indeed, documents show that the original profile published by WWD and written by WWD editor-in-chief and former Paris bureau chief Miles Socha praised Galliano for showcasing models of “pretty much all ages, sizes, colors and shapes,” without a single mention of the 2011 incident. Socha declined to comment and referred questions to Penske public relations.
The story has since been updated to include Galliano’s ugly rant. But sources attributed that to the internal blowback, which they said also resulted in a staff-wide Zoom call that had some staffers visibly upset.
The Google forum also resulted in criticisms earlier this year over the Dec. 31, 2020, exit of executive editor Bridget Foley after a WWD career of more than 30 years. People griped that Foley — one of the publication’s highest-ranking women — departed without a farewell memo from Penske Media CEO Jay Penske or its top editor Fallon.
“People thought that was rude and disrespectful,” said one source.
Hays declined to comment on her own exit but said in a statement: “I’m so proud of my work at WWD, as a reporter and a member of the newsroom who took constructive action on the need for open communication and transparency, recognized by the staff and upper management alike, during a particularly difficult year. I am hopeful and excited for the future.”