Inside Cheddar, the millennial-news network trying to find its footing after a $200 million exit and big layoffs during the pandemic


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In April, Dexter Goei, the CEO of Altice USA, and Jon Steinberg, the founder of Cheddar, virtually addressed a crowd of curious and apprehensive Cheddar employees.

This was a rare joint appearance by the millennial-news network’s two leaders since Altice acquired Cheddar for $200 million in 2019. Altice execs, who worked out of the company’s headquarters in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, had rarely visited Cheddar’s State Street campus in lower Manhattan.

Now, with layoffs sweeping across the media sphere and everyone working remotely because of the pandemic, staffers scrambled to log in to Microsoft Teams for the Altice-hosted videoconference. (The Cheddar team still used Slack, a holdover from its independent days.)

Five former Cheddar staffers told Business Insider that they left the call feeling somewhat reassured about the state of the business during the pandemic, despite hearing the executives use words like “consolidation.” They requested anonymity to protect future career prospects.

Steinberg, whom insiders have described as charismatic, relatable, and always looking to the next big thing, focused on the positives.

“They went through slides showing how great viewership was doing across the platform because of COVID,” one of the people said. “There was no language in that to indicate that there would be mass layoffs.”

The calls came an hour or two later. Staffers across the newsroom were laid off and furloughed, including Cheddar’s entire Los Angeles bureau and producers and anchors who worked on long-running shows like “Opening Bell” and “Closing Bell.” The cuts were across Altice.

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Three sources estimated that Cheddar’s staff was slashed by 30% or more, which would be a substantial share of the once growing operation. Altice said Cheddar now had 160 newsroom employees but declined to confirm the scope of the layoffs.

Multiple Cheddar insiders said they were stunned by the layoffs, with one describing them as a “horrible shock” and another saying they “came out of nowhere.” Layoffs are common after mergers as companies eliminate staffers doing the same jobs — but these, more influenced by the pandemic, caught staffers off guard.

The meeting drew a sharp line from the old Cheddar, the startup where Steinberg, who calls Cheddar his “baby,” shared key financials and ad-sales figures in weekly town halls, the former staffers said.

Cheddar isn’t a startup anymore. It’s part of Altice, which has become the US’s fourth-largest cable operator since being spun out of a European telecom giant.

“It makes me feel terrible that people were caught blindsided,” Steinberg told Business Insider of the layoffs. “I had hoped I never would do a layoff, but I think we handled it with decency.”

The abrupt layoffs also dashed the hopes of some Cheddar employees that the backing of a cable giant would give financial breathing room to a company that had been forced to nearly constantly reinvent its business model since its founding.

Cheddar made a splashy entry into the media scene in the spring of 2016, when Steinberg, a former president of BuzzFeed and venture capitalist, raised nearly $3 million in financing to launch a …read more

Source:: Businessinsider – Tech

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