New media noncompetes are destroying the careers of young journalists

When Stephanie Russell-Kraft signed up to work for Law360, she naively entered into a probably unenforceable noncompete "agreement" that asserted that by looking at court filings for interesting news stories, she'd be privy to "critical and sensitive proprietary information" — but she didn't really think about it until Law360 used her signature on the agreement to get her fired from her second industry job, with Reuters, costing her a generous compensation package that included overtime and health insurance.

Russell-Kraft says that many lawyers told her the agreement was illegal, but she lacked the $50,000+ it would cost to fight it in court — but Law360's actions were egregious enough to prompt her former colleagues at Law360 to unionize and force the company to get rid of its noncompete clause.

Law360 isn't alone: noncompetes are fast becoming a standard tool to tilt the playing field in favor of employers — and this isn't limited to new media enterprises. Remember that 1 in 5 US workers are now bound by non-negotiable noncompete agreements, including people who make sandwiches and dig holes for their employers.

Many media outlets have not been fazed by the AG's investigation. Last week, BuzzFeed revealed that social and video news company NowThis News requires low-level staff members to sign non-compete agreements barring them from taking jobs at Mic, Vox, BuzzFeed, Vice, CNN, Complex, VaynerMedia, and Conde Nast. This week, CNN reported that the conservative website Independent Journal Review has asked all staffers, including entry-level employees making $35,000 per year, to sign a non-compete that bars them from working at any competing business for six months after leaving.

Mashable also has a non-compete agreement for all of its employees. A copy of the agreement stipulates that editorial employees not work for a competitor for six months after leaving. The list of competitors is long, and includes The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, The Verge, Vice, Business Insider, Re/Code, Vox, Wired, Fast Company, and HuffPost.

It's worth noting that none of the contracts negotiated by New York's top journalism unions, the NewsGuild (which represents Thomson Reuters, The New York Times, and Time Inc.) and Writers Guild of America East (representing The Intercept, Gothamist, and Slate), contain non-compete provisions. Law360 reporters voted to unionize with the NewsGuild last summer; the organizing effort was catalyzed by the company's decision to enforce its non-compete against me.

I learned the hard way why non-competes are bad for journalists
[Stephanie Russell-Kraft/Columbia Journalism Review]

(Image: Vectorportal, CC-BY)

(via Naked Capitalism)