A tenet of our profession is that the people who cover the news — reporters, editors, photographers and such — do not like to be in the news. But that’s what happened, more or less, last week.
Lee Enterprises, new-ish owner of the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-SalemJournal, laid off about a third of its editorial staff last week, including longtime editors, award-winning reporters and photographers and others who answered the siren’s call of journalism, only to be bashed upon the rocky shore for their efforts.
It’s a travesty. Greensboro is the third largest city in North Carolina, and about six reporters are left to make a daily newspaper that covers it: sports, cops and courts, schools, government, arts, business… all of it.
Everybody knows it’s not enough.
We are on the cusp of the most historic election in all of our lifetimes; a global pandemic is ravaging our health and our economy; widespread upheaval over policing and systemic racism has shaken the firmament.
To decimate the newspapers of record for the anchor cities of the third-largest population base in the state is irresponsible at best, reprehensible at worst, and at its heart a fundamentally un-American move.
Our communities do not function without a vibrant press. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.
But the problem with Lee Enterprises — and, to be fair, other business-minded entities that have been buying newspapers in large and mid-sized cities as of late — is that they’re not in this business because of the First Amendment, the necessity of speaking truth to power, the essential services that the newspaper of record must provide.
They’re in this for the money.
Lee Enterprises took in $121.4 million in the second quarter of this year — that’s $30 million a month to operate its 66 news organizations. We know something about what it costs to make a newspaper, and this is an enormous cash flow. Lee Enterprises has generated more than $45 million in earnings so far this year. That’s according to its own P&L.
Lee Enterprises has no problem taking advertising dollars out of our cities, from small businesses and large corporations alike. They’re just not interested in investing that money back into the communities from whence it came.
At Triad City Beat, we do things differently — but then, everybody knows that.
The newspaper business is not like other enterprises. We’re not making widgets here. Our mission is surely patriotic and almost sacred.
Lee Enterprises has forgotten that most basic tenet of our profession. Or, perhaps, they never knew in the first place.