Two weeks ago, when Elena Bergeron stepped down from her position as editor-in-chief of SB Nation, Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell wrote a glowing memo to staff, explaining that Bergeron was leaving to “focus her skills on more creative work.” The real story of her departure, however, appears to be much more complicated.
Bergeron left SB Nation after Vox hired a third-party investigator to look into an allegation of sexual misconduct made by an SB Nation staffer against a non-staffer* and how the allegation was handled by SB Nation leadership, according to a source familiar with the situation. The investigator was brought in after Bergeron was made aware of the allegations. The staffer, who Deadspin is not naming, declined to comment.
When reached for comment via email, the person who allegedly committed sexual misconduct said, “Is my name in this story? If so I advise we talk before anything goes to print. There may be LOTS you don’t know.” In a subsequent conversation the person said, “Wish I could be helpful but I don’t know anything of the sort,” and did not answer follow-up questions. (Deadspin is not naming this person to protect the identity of the staffer.) Vox Media flack Meridith Webster and Vox Media CEO Jim Bankoff did not respond to an email requesting comment, nor did Bergeron.
Bergeron, whose last day at the company is March 15, became the first-ever editor-in-chief of SB Nation in 2017. The previous year, when Bergeron was a senior editor, she raised concerns about SB Nation’s now-infamous 12,000-word puff piece about Daniel Holtzclaw, an Oklahoma City police officer who was convicted of raping black women while on duty. Her concerns were largely ignored, and the swift backlash to the story led to the dissolution of SB Nation’s longform vertical.
As editor-in-chief of SB Nation, Bergeron oversaw a tumultuous two years. Increased public scrutiny over SB Nation’s team site labor practices resulted in two ongoing federal lawsuits over the classification and payment of unpaid and underpaid team site workers. (Bergeron was dismissive of SB Nation team site workers’ complaints about not being paid, telling Deadspin in August 2017 that “everybody who contributes for a Vox Media property gets paid.”) Under Bergeron’s leadership, SB Nation, like other Vox sites, went through several rounds of layoffs and restructuring, and saw some of its biggest names—including Grant Brisbee, Tyler Tynes, and Charlotte Wilder—leave the company.
SB Nation promoted executive producer Ryan Nanni to interim EIC; not executive editor Jenn Holmes. According to sources who were present, Holmes’s departure was announced at a meeting on the same day Bergeron’s departure was announced. Holmes’s departure, however, was not mentioned in the company-wide memo from Melissa Bell. When asked to confirm Holmes is also leaving SB Nation, Webster, a lawyer who previously worked at Bloomberg and in the Obama White House, did not respond. Holmes did not respond to emails asking about her status at SB Nation.
*Update 1:35 p.m. ET: Phrasing was changed to make clear that the allegation of sexual misconduct was made by an SB Nation staffer. The person accused of sexual misconduct is not on the SB Nation staff.
Update 2:25 p.m. ET: Vox Media publisher Melissa Bell sent an email to SB Nation staff:
I want to address today’s Deadspin article. While we typically do not comment on internal investigations, we are making an exception here so you can hear from us directly.
As you know, Vox Media has a zero tolerance policy for any kind of harassment in the workplace. There was an independent investigation, led by an experienced external law firm, into an allegation of an incident of inappropriate behavior by someone not on the SB Nation or Vox Media staff. Neither Elena nor anyone else was asked to leave Vox Media as a result of the investigations. We are grateful when our employees speak up and we want to continue to encourage anyone with any concerns to speak with their Manager, the People & Culture Team or report through our anonymous hotline www.voxmedia.ethicspoint.com or by phone at (844) 814-5931.
As always, I am available to chat with anyone who has questions or concerns.