Photo: Courtesy of Gimlet
Earlier this month, Reply All kicked off an ambitious miniseries, “The Test Kitchen,” which sought to take on one of the bigger stories about the media’s reckoning with toxic workplace dynamics that took place last summer: the implosion of Bon Appétit due to scandal.
But shortly after the release of its second episode, Reply All seems to be going through a reckoning of its own. On Wednesday evening, Gimlet managing director Lydia Polgreen sent out an internal email announcing that Sruthi Pinnamaneni, the show’s longtime senior reporter who was leading “The Test Kitchen,” was stepping back from the miniseries immediately, while P.J. Vogt, Reply All’s founding co-host, had asked to take a leave of absence from the show as a whole.
These developments come after a former staffer, Eric Eddings, published a Twitter thread accusing Pinnamaneni and Vogt specifically of contributing to a “toxic dynamic at Gimlet” that was “near identical” to the Bon Appetit culture depicted in the miniseries. “The BA staffers’ stories deserve to be told, but to me it’s damaging to have that reporting and storytelling come from two people who have actively and AGGRESSIVELY worked against multiple efforts to diversify Gimlet’s staff & content,” Eddings wrote.
The thread went on to lay out a series of allegations against Pinnamaneni and Vogt, depicting them as having actively worked against efforts to diversify the company’s staff and content that were primarily linked to an early workplace campaign to form a union. That union push took place shortly before Spotify’s acquisition of the company in early 2019.
According to the internal email, “The Test Kitchen” was originally meant to be Pinnamaneni’s last story for Reply All before moving on to other projects at the company. It also noted that the company has plans to discuss what comes next for the miniseries. Reply All, one of Spotify’s biggest podcasts, is expected to continue production.
Spotify has yet to provide comment on the matter; the accusations pertain to a period that predates its acquisition of Gimlet and the subsequent changes it has instituted in the company, including the hiring of Polgreen, formerly the editor-in-chief of HuffPost. However, on Wednesday night, Vogt tweeted out an apology with the announcement that he was temporarily stepping back from the show. “I deeply failed as an ally during the unionization era at Gimlet,” he wrote. “I did not intend to stop the unionization effort, and I am very glad it succeeded… I’m not done working, but I don’t think anyone needs me taking up space right now.” Pinnamaneni also posted an apology of her own.
Here’s the full text of the email from Polgreen:
I want to begin by acknowledging the complicated and emotional nature of what has unfolded on social media and in conversations over the last 24 hours. I have had direct discussions with those involved and many others of you who are feeling the impact of this, and I plan to continue these in the days and weeks ahead.
From the moment I arrived at Gimlet, it was clear that our culture needed work, and that there were big things that needed to change to make this a better, more equitable place. We have spent a lot of time working to make those changes in partnership with many of you. These events are a reminder of how much work remains.
PJ has asked to step down from his role on the show and take a leave of absence, and I have agreed. It was always intended that this miniseries was to be Sruthi’s last story for Reply All before she moved to other projects at Gimlet, but instead, she will be stepping back from the show immediately. The Reply All team and I will be discussing the plans for The Test Kitchen in the days ahead.
At Gimlet, we make creative work in collaborative teams. That work is really rewarding and also hard. It involves honest and sometimes difficult conversations. But those conversations must happen with respect. No person at Gimlet or Spotify is too important or powerful to escape accountability for their behavior, very much including me.
These events are also a reminder that we are in the midst of a collective bargaining process that is by its nature confrontational. We sit across the table from each other and negotiate. But I know that the people who organized the union are motivated by a desire to make Gimlet better. We may disagree about the specifics of how to achieve that goal, but we are united in wanting to make Gimlet the best place for the most ambitious creators of audio to work. I believe that thanks to hard work on both sides we have made a lot of progress.
We have a lot of work ahead of us. Despite our recent challenges, I believe that the world needs more of your exceptional storytelling. We’ll have time to talk about this together at our All Staff next week but I’m happy to talk before then as well.