May 30, 2014 · 2 minutes

UPDATE: In a post titled "VICE to Gawker: Fuck You and Fuck Your Garbage Click-Bait 'Journalism,'" VICE touts its employees' benefit packages as well as its "Stock Appreciation Rights" program, which compensates employees in the event of a "liquidity event." The response also points out the class action lawsuit brought against Gawker over unpaid internships.

Today, Gawker's Hamilton Nolan exposed Brooklyn media's worst-kept secret: VICE doesn't pay its employees very much.

Despite VICE's multi-billion dollar valuation, a recent $70 million cash infusion from 21st Century Fox, and annual revenue estimates of $1 billion by 2016, a number of employees, including editors, shared their immense (and justifiable) dissatisfaction over compensation:

Editors who worked on Vice's verticals (music, video, fashion, sports, etc.) tell us they started at salaries of $24K-$26K, sometimes rising to a whopping $30K after six months or a year of good performance. For editors who run verticals, salaries are "about $40K," said one ex-employee. And that's at the upper end— "I can tell you that as one of the higher level editors of one of the highest trafficked verticals, I make less than 40k a year," another editor told us.
This confirms what I've heard during very tipsy conversations in Brooklyn dives and lofts with former VICE employees over the past few months. Also independent photographers have told me that VICE regularly uses their photos for stories without pay (though all it usually takes is an angry email to convince VICE to promptly remove them). Furthermore, it potentially implicates VICE, despite its "heroin-chic" populism, in a growing trend of absurdly high CEO-to-median employee compensation ratios that, as former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich puts it, is "contributing to the slowest [economic] recovery on record." Although we don't know Smith's salary, Nolan rightly notes that "a public offering would certainly make Shane Smith a billionaire."

Of course all of this is a little ironic coming from Gawker, which is facing a class action lawsuit brought by a group of the site's former unpaid interns. Gawker attempted to block the suit on the grounds that, as Paul Carr put it, "the invaluable educational experience of working at Gawker should be reward enough." In fairness, court documents show one intern said he gained a lot of valuable experience from the internships while another said it was a waste of time, which I suppose is true of any internship or job, especially in media where gigs usually require a measure of self-determination.

Nevertheless, Nolan's VICE story is merely the latest in a long line of Gawker posts that stoke outrage over unfair compensation and treatment of employees or interns, even as Gawker itself is accused of the same. There was "Unpaid Intern is Not a Real Employee, Can't Sue For Sexual Harassment," "Conde Nast Stops Paying Interns," and "Revealed: Sheryl Sandberg's Unpaid Intern Disgrace."

Worse than the hypocrisy -- just -- is the fact that Gawker almost certainly knows it's being hypocritical, and either assumes its readers are too dumb to realize or doesn't care if they do. As has been widely reported (and admitted), Gawker now measures much of its success based on comments flowing into its Kinja community platform. Having hoards of angry readers yelling at you for hypocrisy is a great way to hype up traffic numbers. And, either way, no one ever went broke by stoking the flames of class warfare.

[illustration by Hallie Bateman for Pando]