The Amazing Shrinking Times-Dispatch

by Jon Baliles

You might recall a story from last summer in Style Weekly entitled The Incredibly Shrinking Times-Dispatch about the decline of our local newspaper and the print news business in general. It has been a precipitous and rapid descent.

Now, according to Axios, it seems that shrinking is not only ongoing but might be accelerating: Lee Enterprises is telling some employees that they will need to take a two-week, unpaid furlough or accept a salary reduction, according to an internal memo obtained by Axios.

The larger drama is that Lee was looked at for a takeover by Alden Global Capital last year and Lee laid off numerous employees company-wide and has continued to struggle (along with most legacy print media). The details of the saga can be read about here and are basically portrayed as two sides of the same bad coin. But, as it relates to Richmond, the story notes that:

In an email sent Monday, staffers at Lee-owned Richmond Times-Dispatch were told that all of their mandatory furlough time [two weeks] must be scheduled by the end of February.

Employees will continue to receive their benefits throughout the furlough period, and deductions for those benefits will continue to be taken out of their paychecks, the email read.

‘In order for Lee to comply with federal wage and hour laws, you are not allowed to do ANY work while out on furlough,’ read the email. ‘Please do not read or respond to emails or voicemails, do not return calls and do not come into the office. Do not attend any function as an official representative of the paper.’

Lee, one of the last remaining independent newspaper companies, has been rolling out furloughs across its newsrooms. Staffers at The Roanoke Times, the Globe Gazette and the Lincoln Journal Star were told earlier this month.

Yikes. That’s the kind of memo usually followed by polishing up your resumé. The story has tales of impending doom from papers in other cities about staff reductions, layoffs, stagnant wages, and lack of serving readers and the communities in which they publish.

Some of that has already occurred here per the article in Style, and it’s possible we might see some of those tales appear in our area code soon, which would be nothing short of devastating for the gathering and reporting of local news and covering of local issues. Even if a print publication goes all digital, let’s hope that in whatever form we see it, it is news that continues to serve our community — news we can actually use that provides accountability for those who make the decisions.

Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.