Lee Enterprises will slash any newsroom, even a one-person paper

UPDATE (10/13): Lee Enterprises has laid off the Floyd Press’ only full-time journalist, Ashley Spinks, for doing the interview with WWTF. Spinks’ wedding is in three days, which her supervisors knew, she wrote on Twitter.

“I got invited to a conference call, fired while they invoked this story, and was immediately locked out of email and the network. I don’t regret speaking to WVTF for one second; I’d do it again,” Spinks wrote. “I feel deep sadness for my community, which will no longer see the coverage it deserves.”

Lee Enterprises has consistently demonstrated a desire to cut its newspapers to the bone so it can pay off its debt and continue to hand out exorbitant salaries and bonuses to its executives. Montana is hardly the only state that has felt Lee’s wrath.

WWTF, a National Public Radio affiliate in Virginia, published a story last week about Lee’s impact on Virginia journalism. One newspaper, the Floyd Press, has just one full-time reporter/editor, yet Lee trimmed.

“I can’t believe that they can still find stuff to cut,” Roanoke Times reporter Alison Graham told WWTF.

An excerpt from WWTF’s story is below, and the full piece can be found here.

Like other reporters at Lee-owned papers (Ashley) Spinks was furloughed for a couple of weeks this Spring. And in one particularly infuriating day she, and others, were told their email storage would be slashed. She spent hours deleting messages in order to access her inbox. 

But the biggest cut of all for the Floyd Press has been the freelance budget. Spinks assigns and edits a handful of stories each month to freelance reporters. 

“Certainly like, if the readership were to notice something it would be I was filling more space with stories that I was pulling in from sister papers,” Spinks says. That means she was pulling stories from reporters in Roanoke or Richmond, and she says readers did notice. She got messages from folks wondering why there was less content about their community. 

When asked whether one person can really do it all, Spinks pauses before admitting it’s difficult.

“You don’t always have the capacity to do follow-up interviews, to add context and color to the stories,” Spinks says. “But even more important than that…what are you not reporting on?” 

It haunts her. She won an award last year for her coverage of ongoing issues with the county’s water system. She knows there’s more to dig into and she’s got the ideas and sources, but she seriously doubts that corporate would approve the $300 she needs to chase the story. That’s how much it would cost to do water testing at different locations throughout the county.

“And do I have the time to look into the science and consult the experts and do follow up interviews?” Spinks asks rhetorically with a shake of her head. “I’m not saying there is anything wrong with the water, but if there was that would be something that was really important for the community to know and right now they’re not being well served by me or the paper.” 

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