Daily Press office set to close in Newport News at end of Sept.
Landlord sued newspaper's owner for back rent but now says it's up to date
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that the Daily Press had not paid rent on its offices for more than a year. This information was based on a court filing that the newspaper’s landlord has said may have had an incorrect 2019 date listed. The Daily Press was delinquent on its rent by three months, from April to June 2020, but is now current, according to Pointe Hope LLC’s lead investor, Joe Ritchie Sr.
UPDATE SEPT. 18:
Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot staff members were notified on Sept. 15 that the newspapers will not have an office in Hampton Roads as of Sept. 25, when The Tribune Publishing Co. plans to close the Newport News newsroom.
Employees were told they needed to gather their personal items by 5 p.m. Sept. 25 because they will not have access to the building after that time, according to an email from Par Ridder, the Chicago-based interim general manager of the two newspapers, which are owned by Chicago-based Tribune Publishing Co.
The decision comes after the closing of the Virginian-Pilot’s longtime Norfolk office in April and the shutdown of its printing press in Virginia Beach in July. Both newspapers, as well as The Virginia Gazette and Tidewater Review, are printed at the Richmond Times-Dispatch press. The closing of the Virginia Beach press eliminated 48 full-time and 84 part-time printing and packaging jobs, and newsroom employees have been given a series of unpaid furloughs since the March onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The newspapers’ staffs will be working without an office by the end of September, with reporters, editors and other employees working remotely, mainly from home. That’s been the routine for many Pilot and Daily Press journalists since March, when the pandemic began.
After the Virginian-Pilot’s Brambleton Avenue office, its home for 82 years, was sold to developers who are turning it into a residential property, Tribune Publishing executives said that employees would be able to work from the Daily Press office in Newport News or the press building in Virginia Beach — a plan that was reversed over the past three months.
“Going forward, we will evaluate our workspace needs,” Ridder wrote in the Sept. 15 email. “However, as the pandemic prevents us from safely returning to the office for an undetermined period of time, we do not expect any decisions on this front to be made in 2020.”
Pointe Hope LLC, owner of the Daily Press’ office at the City Center at Oyster Point office park, sued the newspaper for $110,018 in June in a dispute over unpaid rent, according to Newport News Circuit Court records.
However, Joe Ritchie Sr., the leader of Pointe Hope, a group of local investors who purchased the nine-building center for $64 million in 2016, says that the Tribune has paid all overdue rent since the lawsuit was filed. The Daily Press owed three months’ rent on two properties when the suit was filed in June, Ritchie says.
“They are current on their rent,” Ritchie said in a phone interview with Virginia Business. However, Pointe Hope’s lawsuit is still pending until the Daily Press and the property owners can reach a settlement agreement on a termination of the two leases, which were supposed to expire in 2025, Ritchie added.
The Daily Press denied a breach of contract in an Aug. 21 legal filing by Brett Spain of Willcox & Savage PC in Norfolk. In the response to the lawsuit, the Daily Press’ attorney contended that the terms of the two leases were “suspended or excused based on events amounting to force majeure,” or unforeseeable circumstances that prevent fulfillment of a contract.
Tribune Publishing announced last month that it was closing five other physical newsrooms, including the New York Daily News and The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, where five employees were killed and two wounded by a gunman in 2018.
In an Aug. 5 financial filing, Tribune Publishing disclosed it “has withheld payment of rent for a majority of its leased facilities in April and May and requested rent relief in various forms. Tribune has been notified by a number of lessors that it is in default under the terms of the respective leases and the company and certain of such lessors have formally filed complaints in their local jurisdictions. The company is negotiating with such lessors on the terms of the potential rent relief and the lessors’ remedies and is responding timely to all filed complaints. The company has secured lease restructuring, rent abatements and deferrals for approximately 24 leases and terminations on four leases.”
Several newsroom employees and the newspapers’ union, The Tidewater Guild, criticized the Daily Press office’s closure on Twitter.
“Corporate leadership in Chicago tells us this decision was made ‘after careful deliberation,’ which makes you wonder why staff are only being given 10 days notice of the closure to pack up their belongings,” wrote Sara Gregory, an education reporter for The Virginian-Pilot.
“Journalism doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and Zoom is not a permanent replacement for collaboration,” Virginian-Pilot courts and public safety reporter Margaret Matray wrote. “Some things can’t be done on Slack. And I can’t conduct an in-person interview with a sensitive source at a Starbucks.”
A complaint of many reporters was that Tribune won’t reimburse work-related expenses such as power bills, internet access, printers and other materials needed for employees to work at home.
“It costs us money to work for @tribpub,” Matray wrote. “Shameful.”