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Bill Simmons opened his Friday podcast with Rob Lowe and Don Cheadle by addressing the New York Times story about falling short on diversity hiring in editorial and leadership positions about The Ringer. He first accepted responsibility for these shortcomings and pledged to do better. Then he provided further context for the “open mic night” comment that spread rapidly on and off social media this week.
“We know we didn’t do well enough, and I wish it had been a bigger priority for us to really make a bigger commitment to diversity than we did,” Simmons said. “I think, in the moment, you’re looking at stuff where you pursue certain people. It doesn’t work out. You feel like you’re trying. And I think the moment that the country’s having in general these last four weeks is like if you feel like you’re trying, that’s actually not good enough.”
“We’re gonna do better, and the only thing I’m gonna say on that is if you know anything about me and how committed I am to all this stuff — to using my platform to try to raise the profile and platform of other people and stuff — this what I tried to do at Grantland and what I’m trying to do at The Ringer. There’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that and when you fall short in some way, which I feel like I did, and I feel like we did — meaning [editors] Chris [Ryan], Sean [Fennessey], Mallory [Rubin], Juliet [Litman], and [CEO] Geoff [Chow] — it hurts, but there’s truth to it.”
“We weren’t doing well enough,” Simmons continued. “We’re gonna try to do better. We’re committed to it. And I gotta be honest — it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Spotify. I thought they were going to be the dominant voice in audio. I also wanted more resources and know-how. I wanted to tap into their HR and their diversity teams and really try to reshape our company … We’ve known for awhile that we wanted to reshape what the company was, and none of us felt like we did well enough.”
“The thing is, it’s like football. You judge a coach by their record. You judge me by my record, and the record wasn’t good enough. So the only thing I would ask for is just give us some time. It’s incredibly important to me and everybody I work with to fix it, and that’s all I can ask.”
After that, Simmons implied that the New York Times took him out of context in saying that his infamous open mic night answer was about diversity. He read the question and answer aloud from the email with the Times reporter:
NYT: Current and former staffers told me that it got harder for young writers (including but not limited to people of color) to get more responsibility and visibility after podcasts became a higher priority at The Ringer in late 2017 early 2018. For example, they said that for the first few months of The Rewatchables there were opportunities for younger, more obscure folks to participate. But by early 2018 it was mostly older folks like you, Chris Ryan, Sean Fennessey, and Mallory Rubin. Can you comment on that?
Simmons: That’s absurd. We were a startup those first two years trying a whole bunch of different things. Eventually we realized that podcasts were the biggest financial part of our business and we needed to put our best people in them. Again, this is a business. This isn’t open mic night. As for Rewatchables, I created that podcast and it was built around me and Chris Ryan. I’ve hosted the vast majority of them. It’s one of our most popular and lucrative podcasts and one of the biggest pop culture podcasts period. I’m proud of the show and confident in how we manage it.
The context of the open mic night comment in the New York Times story came sandwiched between a quote from K. Austin Collins, a black film critic who left The Ringer for Vanity Fair, and staff members being “taken aback” that a white editor hosted a podcast about the show Atlanta. Here are the three paragraphs together in the Times:
“The Rewatchables was pitched as, ‘Let’s get the rest of you participating in podcasts,’” Mr. Collins said. “It very quickly became Sean, Bill and Chris.”
Mr. Simmons said by email that the company needed to spotlight its best podcasters. “It’s a business,” he said. “This isn’t Open Mic Night.” The spokesman said the company was creating new opportunities for young staffers.
Some staff members said they were taken aback when a white editor was chosen as the sole anchor for a podcast on “Atlanta,” the FX series centered on a rapper and his cousin, played by Donald Glover.
So, in my opinion, Simmons still shouldn’t have given that open mic comment for the Times reporter to run with because within the context of the broader story it still carried the implication that the people of color on the Ringer staff who do not have podcasts were not the best people for the job. However, I can see why he believes he was taken out of context with how the quote was inserted into the story.