On Friday morning everyone who runs or writes for SB Nation hockey sites learned, along with many salaried staff in the Vox empire, that Vox is making significant layoffs to full-time staff and withdrawing “support” from tons of contributors, and all but six hockey sites will “no longer be supported and monetized by Vox Media.” They’ve axed full-time people at their non-sports “verticals” and they’ve removed the monthly stipend from tons who keep these sports sites alive.
However, Lighthouse Hockey — at least the written part of our site covering the New York Islanders — is one of the six that will “continue to be supported” according to an Important Information from SB Nation email I received. Meaning we’ll keep doing what we’re doing, mostly...I think.
Separately, I received a different email — though curiously our actual podcasters Dan and Mike did not — stating “your podcast work” will not be supported. Dan and Mike do ALL the lifting on our Islanders Anxiety and Weird Islanders podcasts, and they’ll surely continue in some form (because they’re brilliant) without Vox support (other than promotion by Lighthouse Hockey, at least as long as I’m attached to this site).
That’s the short version. This all came about by surprise, and I was trying to digest it while juggling a ton of things in my real-world job, so I haven’t processed it all and even as I write this update my thoughts are all over the place. But with news reports and rumors I at least wanted our readers who do not brave the sewage that is Twitter to know: We’re still here.
Friday night I was working on a much longer version of this post, but I realized it was too long and all over the place and touched on the history of SB Nation and tributes to everyone who’s contributed to LHH and to all the other SBN hockey sites and to Dan’s Rangers-mocking satire appearing on Yahoo News and...well it was a jumbled mess and I’m not in the headspace to do that properly right now. Even what appears below is a mess, I realize, but I need to get some of it down.
A Very Shitty Day
I learned about the layoffs and “the difficult and careful decision to pull back coverage in some areas” first through Twitter tributes to Stephanie Driver. She is the tireless, genuine and passionate writer who has been Vox/SB Nation’s lone manager over its network of hockey sites for several years; she is among the layoffs. That’s devastating and a big blow to morale in a day full of such blows.
As for what this means longer term here, I do not know — for us writers, for Lighthouse Hockey overall, for Dan and Mike’s podcasts, and for the rest of the very collegial hockey sites we built on this network over the past 15+ years.
On one hand, my experience of Lighthouse Hockey is almost divorced from the Vox landscape anyway; it’s all about the camaraderie and commenters and (often hilarious, sometimes maddening, always passionate) community of Islanders fans; Vox just happens to provide the tech platform (and the decline in comment functions, and the distracting ads, and...). They kept the lights on and the security functioning, we kept up regular content in a decent setting for discussion of one of the league’s more popular (despite appearances) teams. It felt like a landlord-tenant relationship where we get free rent because we maintain the place.
I started LHH when the SB Nation network was just “hey here’s a cool comment platform and a blog host that doesn’t crash,” so that was enough for my purposes. It definitely helped my utilitarian mindset that I wasn’t trying to launch a career here, or get my name out there, I just wanted a place to talk with other Islanders fans. (I’m really pleased that after years of working with that goal in mind, we achieved that, and attracted so many interesting and hilarious writers; I’m sorry that in recent years I’ve been less active as life got more complicated, but I love that so many have helped keep the conversation going.)
Shaped by the 1999-2000 dot-com bubble, I’m keenly aware that 15 years is a really, really long time in 21st-century tech and media, so in my head this was always an experiment at the intersection of technology and capitalist exploitation that could be ended at any moment by forces beyond my control.
On the other hand, what we all built at all of SB Nation’s hockey sites was something really cool and fun, with lots of cross-blog collaboration and support, and most importantly, an ethic of intense but not toxic fan passion. If there was click-bait, it wasn’t from us. So many of us have been motivated by creating a place other fans would actually want to hang out rather than a clickbait farm the stupidest gambling and acne and collectible snakeoil coin advertisers would be able to monetize. I’ve taken such joy, laughter and therapy from the writers from other sites and the ones who’ve contributed to this site over the years — almost every one who started out as readers. This site would never have lasted if people like Steve and Jenny and Dan and many, many other masthead writers and posters hadn’t joined the fun.
Even when we didn’t interact with other SB Nation blogs, we relied on them for the latest on their teams, and I loved that. Seeing that cut out at the knees, for what must be a laughably paltry difference on the financial ledger, is deflating and bizarre. In many ways it feels dirty to carry on — though I know our readers are mostly here for the Isles stuff and not for whoever our peer sites may be.
Lights Remaining On
I have zero other details on the investment/support front; I don’t know if expectations for the surviving sites will change. I don’t even know which of the other hockey sites are in the Surviving Six, instead having to piece together losses via Twitter. I do not know why LHH is among the Chosen Six. (While we have traditionally been among the top 4-8 SBN hockey sites in terms of traffic, sites that regularly draw larger traffic are on the “no longer support” list.)
It sounds like the sites that lost “support” have the option of continuing for absolutely zero compensation, just like the old days before they started tossing scraps to writers, before they were bought or merged or whatever with Vox, and before they ran into changes to labor law that essentially ended SB Nation’s California-team sites.
After the dust settles, will any of the other sites want to keep it up under those conditions? I don’t know; see above, no one could possibly be in this just for the not-anywhere-near-living-wage money (unless they rationalize to themselves, as I sometimes do, “Hey, this covers beer.”), but now for so many what little money there was is gone, and in the most “you were never much of a priority to us” kind of way.
Here at LHH, we’re lucky to have a longstanding, active comment community that is responsible for a good chunk of the life of the site, and has us existing in this little Islanders Purgatory of Self-Torture. I know that the many readers who don’t comment still enjoy our stuff (and even lurk in comments). Even amid today’s carnage, I kept hearing from people going “Gosh, I hope you guys keep it up.”
So right now, 10 hours after getting breadcrumbs of this news at the beginning of a hectic work day, and in a very Isles-centric and Lighthouse-selfish way, I’m inclined to continue this group therapy experience we have built. We have another tail-spinning Islanders season to unpack.