Last Friday, members of the online freelancer community Study Hall learned their institution had been acquired by freelance management and payment platform OutVoice in a “six-figure deal.” (The Objective uses OutVoice as its payment system.)
From publishing stories highlighting independent news, outing publications that don’t pay on time, and penning an antifascist media guide, Study Hall positioned itself as not only outside of the mainstream news ecosystem, but often in direct opposition to it.
Still, in spite of the group’s lofty rhetoric, Study Hall remained a financial asset, one that could be bought and sold to the profit of its owners — though not necessarily its members. And while a public acquisition is not the same as the abruptly announced staff layoffs at the Los Angeles Times, the similar lack of transparency from Study Hall’s owners is in step with the legacy media institutions it’s sought to distinguish itself from.
Initially founded as a coworking space in 2015 by New York writers Kyle Chayka and P.E. Moskowitz, Study Hall grew into a primarily online community where freelancers could collaborate, sharing tips, rates, and opportunities.
Predating the proliferation of similar-style newsletters and shared resources, the community was built on the idea that “the media industry is broken, its business model outdated, and its power too concentrated in the hands of the few,” a sentiment showcased in its weekly newsletter.
One political distinctive was the group’s media workers of color pricing tier, which, at its lowest, cost just nine percent of the normal membership tier and required no justification for the price reduction. That tier existed for years prior to the 2020 media reckonings, which thrust systemic racism in the media into fuller view and conversation.
“In a broader media context, there’s going to be a lot of consolidation of smaller subscription and newsletter-driven publications and communities,” tweeted Chayka. “Sustainability happens on the staff level, and readers / subscribers can connect just as much to an institutional voice.”
The freelancing landscape has changed dramatically since Study Hall’s early days. While opportunities have shrunk along with the number of available media jobs writ large, resources and camaraderie have expanded, and new owners Matt Saincome and Issa Diao have the task of distinguishing the organization from groups like The Freelance Solidarity Project and The Writers’ Co-op.
Earlier this week, the two held the first in a series of community town halls, assuring greater transparency going forward, and offering new ideas, including in-person events and improved newsletter filtering controls.
Since its acquisition, the company’s website has been given a facelift and the media workers of color payment tier has been rebranded as “student and discounted pricing,” now requiring a justification for the reduced rate. Saincome says that the site is being actively updated with the eventual goal of making the tier free and more accessible with the help of sponsorships.
But it remains to be seen whether Study Hall will maintain its capacity for biting media criticism — given that its new owners process payments for the company’s potential subjects of critique — or whether the community’s more radical practices will be sanded off.
“The one thing that Study Hall did offer consistently, that was different from the rest of the media landscape, was its willingness to criticize [other] media from the workers perspective,” according to Juwan Holmes, a former Study Hall member and contributor. (Holmes has previously written for The Objective.) “Without that being part of its focus going forward, since its new owner is actively pushing for media publishers to have direct involvement and use of the community, it has way less value.”
But Study Hall team member Erin Corbett rebuffed the idea that its editorial department would move away from centering workers due to the ownership change. She manages the company’s editorial side and also worked on the aforementioned antifascist media guide.
“The day we stop centering workers in our coverage is the day I leave this company,” Corbett said on Twitter. “If I’m working at Study Hall, we will also be centering workers in everything we do.”
Saincome insisted his ownership won’t “stifle or change” the newsroom’s initial directives and that his role at both OutVoice and Study Hall will help get more gigs in front of freelancers. While he said he understands the phrase “new owner” often invites suspicion, he’s optimistic about the future — and welcomes freelancers to hold him to his promises.
“Over time, it will become more and more apparent that this is going to be a very good thing,” said Saincome. “All we have to do is tell people, ‘Hey, we’re on the same team. And we really want to work together.’ And then one month goes by, two months go by, six months go by, and Study Hall is gonna be much better than it was.”
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This piece originally came from The Front Page, our twice-monthly newsletter on that examines systems of power and inequity in journalism. Subscribe here.
6:27 p.m. PDT: This piece has been updated with comment from a Study Hall editorial team member to more fully reflect company member perspectives.
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