Richmond Times-Dispatch, Roanoke Times, Daily Progress see newsroom layoffs
Lee Enterprises eliminates newsroom jobs at newspapers, unions say
Updated Sept. 11
At least five newsroom staffers at the Richmond Times-Dispatch were told Friday that they were being laid off by owner Lee Enterprises.
Four people laid off were part of the bargaining unit for the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association, the Times-Dispatch’s newsroom union, a representative confirmed. They include a business reporter, a photojournalist, a multimedia content producer and a sports producer.
The company has also decided to cut 10 copy editing and design jobs at The Roanoke Times, according to reports by that newspaper’s union. The eliminated jobs are part of a plan to centralize page design for many of the company’s Virginia-based newspapers at hubs in the Midwest.
And at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, two members of its union were laid off Friday, the Blue Ridge Guild said on Twitter, adding that the company chose to pay them for two weeks instead of giving them notice. One person whose position was eliminated was digital content coordinator Meghin Moore, who wrote in a tweet that she was informed Friday that it was her last day. A staff writer, Tyler Hammel, wrote on Twitter that the newspaper has lost seven union positions since July, and by next month, “our newsroom will be composed of 9 union positions and 2 editors.” Staff writers and other non-supervisory positions are eligible to join the union, but not editors.
“The cuts hurt and leave the Progress on life support,” the guild wrote in a tweet.
“We are saddened to report that Iowa-based Lee Enterprises told five valuable members of our bargaining unit they are being laid off. This move is bad for business and worse for readers of the Times-Dispatch who rely on us for strong local news,” the Richmond Newspapers Professional Association tweeted Friday. “The move by Lee Enterprises comes as the company also pushes to eliminate news design and copy editing jobs at Virginia newspapers.”
The Roanoke Times expects to see 10 copy desk jobs eliminated Oct. 23, after its union, the Timesland News Guild, put forward a plan to establish a design hub in Roanoke that was rejected by Lee. In a news release last Friday, the guild said that more than 1,500 readers contacted the company to keep three full-time and seven part-time jobs in Virginia, and the Roanoke City Council enacted a resolution supporting the idea of a design hub.
“This is a truly sad day for The Roanoke Times and for Southwest Virginia,” said Tonia Moxley, chairwoman of the Timesland News Guild, in a statement. “Despite an opportunity to embrace and grow in Virginia, Lee Enterprises has chosen to outsource our journalism jobs to the Midwest. I’m heartbroken because our newsroom is losing so much homegrown and amazing talent, but it’s really a loss for the region and the state.”
Lee Enterprises has design hubs in Indiana and Wisconsin where multiple newspapers owned by the company are designed each night — a shift from the Virginia newspapers’ current operation, in which pages of the next day’s paper are designed and edited in-house. Staff members say that outsourcing copy editing duties leads to mistakes because out-of-state designers are unfamiliar with local landmarks, names and history.
The Daily Progress’ four-person copy desk in Charlottesville also will be laid off in early October, according to a memo sent to employees last month. There has been no announcement so far about the future of the Times-Dispatch’s copy desk.
Lee Enterprises purchased 30 newspapers earlier this year from BH Media Group, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., for $140 million in cash. Lee was previously hired to manage the BH Media newspapers, including those in Virginia.
The company owns the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Bristol Herald Courier, The News & Advance in Lynchburg, The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Martinsville Bulletin, Danville Register & Bee and The News Virginian in Waynesboro, The Roanoke Times, The Daily Progress and multiple weekly newspapers in Virginia.
Times-Dispatch Publisher Paul Farrell was not available for comment Friday afternoon, and a spokesperson for Lee Enterprises said the company had no comment.
Virginia Business Deputy Editor Kate Andrews was a copy editor and staff writer at The Daily Progress from 1999 to 2006.