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Lee Enterprises makes further cuts at The Roanoke Times

(WDBJ)
Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 11:28 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - At least nine newsroom employees with The Roanoke Times will be laid off, according to Lee Enterprises.

The Iowa-based company announced its plans Monday. The layoffs mean more than 20% of the newspaper’s unionized staff will be affected.

“These layoffs mark another difficult day for The Roanoke Times and its continued survival in Southwest Virginia,” said Alison Graham, an investigative reporter and union vice chair. “Our corporate owners have once again put short-sighted profit goals over both long-term solutions and the newspaper’s mission to deliver vital local news.”

Newsroom staff has been cut by more than 25% since early 2020, when it was acquired by Lee Enterprises. The company purchased around half of Virginia’s daily newspapers in a deal with BH Media Group, the previous owner. It began cutting newsroom jobs six months later.

“More cuts won’t make us profitable — only investment can do that,” said Tonia Moxley, a veteran reporter and chair of the union. “In 2012, we had more than 100 staffers and 90,000 subscribers. Today, we have 46 staffers and 30,000 subscribers. More cuts mean fewer readers.”

Newsroom staff will decrease from 46 to 37 with the new layoffs.

Layoffs will be effective April 23. The Timesland News Guild’s first contract required the company to provide staffers with two weeks’ notice and will guarantee certain severance benefits. No such protections were in place before the newsroom unionized in 2020.

“This round of layoffs is yet another example of how little Lee Enterprises cares for local news gathering,” said Tad Dickens, a longtime reporter and a union vice chair. “Profits reign over public knowledge.”

The layoffs follow a number of recent changes. In 2020, the newspaper’s page design work was outsourced to out-of-state corporate hubs. In addition, the Christiansburg office used by the NRV bureau was closed. In January of 2021, the flagship office in downtown Roanoke was listed for sale.

The Timesland News Guild says the newsroom will now enter a period in which workers can negotiate buyouts or other agreements in order to reduce involuntary layoffs, a process that will take multiple days to complete.

Lee Enterprises said it plans to eliminate four reporters, one digital editor, one copyeditor and three editorial assistants.

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