The Roanoke Times Downsizes… Again

The Roanoke Times building went up for sale in January.

by James A. Bacon

The Roanoke Times is laying off nine newsroom employees, resulting in a 20% decrease in staffing, reports Virginia Business. Both Henri Gendreau, who covered the Virginia Tech beat, and Claire Mitzel, who covered K-12 schools, were informed that April 23 will be their last day. The two reporters broke the story about several racial episodes at Virginia Military Institute (and did a far more creditable job, incidentally, than The Washington Post.)

The newspaper also is laying off a digital editor, a copy editor, and three editorial assistants who contributed to local sports coverage. Including previous cuts, the Roanoke Times has lost more than 25% of its newsroom employees since early 2020 when the paper was purchased by Iowa-based Lee Enterprises. The newspaper is the dominant provider of news coverage in western Virginia.

I keep hoping that the long-term decline in newspaper readership and advertising revenue will bottom out, that newspaper publishers will find a sustainable business model based on paid subscriptions and digital advertising that strips out the costs associated with printing, newspaper distribution and print ads. No one seems to have found the formula yet.

As a former Roanoke Times employee — Steve Haner and I worked there in the last 1970s and early 1980s — I confess to feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days when the newspaper industry was basking in peak profitability and newsrooms enjoyed resources that could never be imagined today. That was a time when our editors had the budget to dispatch Doug Pardue (who went on to share a Pulitzer Prize at the Post and Courier for a series on domestic violence) and me to the far Southwest coalfields and spend weeks developing multi-part series on the vaguest of notions.

The Roanoke Times punched above its weight in those days. We gave The Virginian-Pilot and The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia’s two heavyweight newspapers of the era, a good run for their money in the annual Virginia Press Association awards competition. Although many reporters saw the Roanoke Times as a stepping stone to a better-paying gig in a bigger media market, we had real élan.

It startles me to see that the newspaper is laying off the reporter covering K-12 schools. The newspaper always prized its school coverage. Apparently, readers couldn’t get enough. Regardless of our beat, every reporter was required to write a monthly “In the Schools” column… which in most cases was a challenge, as we didn’t cover a school beat and, therefore, had no sources. But if we didn’t come up with our own ideas, our editors would assign us some boring story based on a school district press release. That requirement was a source of endless griping, as I recall, but we complied.

The timing of Claire Mitzel’s layoff couldn’t be worse, as public schools struggle through the COVID-19 reopening and grapple with the Critical Race Theory agenda emanating from Richmond. Western Virginians will get more and more of their news from social media sources of dubious validity.

I complain a lot — and justifiably so — about the leftist slant of Virginia news media. News staffs have their narratives, and they pick stories, sources, and facts that fit those narratives. But at least they do usually check their facts. We may be getting only one side of the story, but we can be fairly sure that the facts are accurate. Moreover, in my observation, the Roanoke Times has been less narrative-driven and has done a better job than most of its peers about infusing its reporting with diverse perspectives.

I sure hope the newspaper touches finds a way to pull out of its dive. It would leave a huge hole to fill.

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9 responses to “The Roanoke Times Downsizes… Again”

  1. Larry Hincker Avatar
    Larry Hincker

    Jim, As a regular Roanoke Times subscriber, yes I’m still a print reader and the RT rates are through the roof, I too am troubled by the death spiral. As you say, the classifieds are gone and display ads are going. Thus, subscribers will have to pay the freight. But most people in the modern era think news is free.

    I’m intrigued by the recent law passed in Australia which requires Google and Facebook to pay for some carriage of news on their platforms. While that’s a backdoor way to require readers to pay for their news consumption, at least it begins to move monies toward those ‘content creators,’ journalists and newspapers.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    Here’s the latest “bill” received from the Free Lance Star in Fredericksburg, owned by the same company I believe:

    1. Yikes, that’s REALLLY expensive. That’s a newspaper subscription, I trust, not a digital subscription.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        It’s a print subscription + digital. I pay far less for others. I can only surmise they are trying to shed their print customers…

        Folks should check the Roanoke Times to see if that’s what they are charging also… same company owns both.

  3. tmtfairfax Avatar

    I don’t know anything about the Roanoke Times per se. However, given the long-term media focus on itself instead of readers, listeners and viewers, I can’t say I’m surprised or care much.

    I grew up reading the St. Paul papers, both morning and evening, front to back. How many 8 year olds do that? When I moved to Omaha and to Des Moines, I read the World-Herald and Register daily. We even read the Post for almost 20 years until my wife said it took up too much of her time and was too expensive. Maybe, two or three times a month, I read a Post article through the Fairfax County Public Library. It’s not a necessary part of my life.

    A good media outlet should hold no side or cause sacred or off-limits. It’s editorial page should welcome letters to the editor and op-ed pieces that fly in the face of its editorials. Yet, the Post failed to uncover and report on Northam’s blackface conduct not just in one election cycle, but in two, even while it sent a team of reporters to dig the dirt on an Alabama candidate for U.S. Senate.

    The death spiral seems very logical and welcome.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    I don’t see this changing. People my age and younger just do not consume information in the old ways. It is a shame. Old school news and journalism were good watchdogs and helpful informers. New school news and journalism have evolved into organs of the left and right. It is hard work to discern some sense of truth now.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      I don’t think it is impossible to discern facts and truth though. They both exist and can be found.

  5. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    “Newspapers” were historical tools of whiteness. For Allah’s sake they even produced “style” manuals of the repressive “English” (um, white) language. They should all be made illegal.

  6. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Let’s see, first job there was summer internship, 1974….Yep, 47 years ago this coming May. Thanks, Jim, I needed another reminder of impending decrepitude….Impending, hell….

    Ironically, we have more information at our immediate beck and call than we could even have imagined then. The problem is too much, not too little. I consume more “news” and “opinion” in one day then I did in a week back then. Three on-line subscriptions and four or five daily compilations in my inbox, plus easy access to the various “Real Clear” compilations which usually have the opposing viewpoints side by side, and then we turn on teh Boob Tube….Going back to a daily paper and the 6 o’clock news hour all by itself would be a shock!

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