Most of the team was recruited by Netflix in January and February to run a fan-focused news site called Tudum, a reference to the platform's start-up sound effect. The site focused on behind-the-scene news and insights about Netflix productions.
"They went very out of their way to hire high level journalists of color who have quite a bit of name recognition and a lot of experience and talent. In some ways, they were just buying clout to lend credibility to their gambit," one former employee told NPR.
When the writers were hired, Netflix represented the position with Tudum as a dream job with lots of freedom, a diverse staff, and good pay. Writers were told that they would virtually be able to write about anything they wanted regarding Netflix content.
"We were courted pretty aggressively. They sold us on the most amazing thing that you could want as a culture journalist or entertainment journalist. They just sold something that seemed impossible anywhere else," a former employee said. "But the biggest selling point was the pay."
The writers say that, while they were hired as experienced journalists, it soon became obvious that Netflix just wanted the team to advertise its shows.
"They started tightening up little by little. And then just it became clear. It's a content marketing job, essentially. That would have been fine if from the get-go they made that clear."
The site was introduced in December of last year and is still visible despite the layoffs. The writers say that, while contributing to the site, they were barred from creating content that mentioned anything controversial, even if it was the subject of the production.
"They created a very jargony corporate environment in which everything is extremely positive. So instead of saying, 'No, don't do that,' they say, 'Do you think that's something we should be doing?'" the writers told NPR. "Still, I'm really proud of a lot of the stories that were done under even those sort of tight parameters that were set and that constantly moved. A lot of great work was done because they hired extremely talented people. And so this more than anything reads as a lack of investment into a project that they didn't properly plan for or properly set up."
Many of the Twitter posts mention workers moving long distances or uprooting their lives in order to take these Netflix writing positions. The workers who were laid off included part-time, full-time, and contract workers and each was only offered two weeks of severance pay.
"I'm extremely resentful and very angry. I think what they've done is evil," another former Tudum employee told BuzzFeed News. "They've no regard for the livelihoods of these people they recruited to be a part of this team. Some people have left union jobs to be on this team."
A spokesperson for Netflix told NPR: "Our fan website Tudum is an important priority for the company."
The layoffs come after Netflix reported a loss in subscribers for the first time in more than a decade in an earnings call this year. Along with cracking down on password sharing, the company also says its considering running ads on its service.