Guild members rally in front of The Buffalo News in 2022. (Buffalo Newspaper Guild)

Lee Enterprise workers call on company to invest in news

The Unions of Lee Enterprises call on the Iowa-based chain to stop taking resources from its newspapers, which is costing jobs, weakening communities and harming the company’s ability to become a sustainable digital operation.

So far this year, there have been more than 50 staff reductions at the 12 unionized newspapers of Lee. That includes 22 newsroom layoffs, buyouts or voluntary resignations of union members, 12 abolished open positions, and other layoffs or eliminations of non-union employees and managers. Those numbers grow considerably when factoring in Lee’s non-union newspapers.

These cuts are tremendously damaging. The Omaha World-Herald lost 25% of its frontline, full-time newsroom journalists and more than a dozen advertising employees in what’s been described as a “bloodbath.” Lee just announced plans to get rid of 160 Buffalo News employees, outsource printing to Cleveland and demanded $1 million in cost reductions to the Buffalo newsroom, which spent the last nine months covering tragic news that made national headlines. And at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Lee outsourced six jobs to one of its design hubs.

These are just the latest examples of cost slashing and hiring neglect by Lee. The chain’s newsrooms are financially lean, hindering their ability to fully cover communities and serve readers. 

The Sioux City Journal, for instance, has not had a single sports staffer on its payroll since October. With each pay period that goes by with the newsroom struggling to attract sportswriting candidates, the company is saving thousands of dollars in wages and benefits while the community goes without coverage of their local teams. 

On top of this, the company has pressed for two-week furloughs at its papers, including union-represented newsrooms that have no desire or intention to accept any further loss of pay. 

This cannot continue. 

We understand and appreciate the local news business is struggling. We live that every day. But this much is clear: Creating a local news product worth buying and advertising in requires local investment. Lee Enterprises cannot just be an extractor.

About the only recent investment Lee has made in news gathering was the September 2022 formation of a 12-member Public Service Journalism team. These are “regional” reporters outside the community placing more demands on local, understaffed newsrooms. 

Such resources would have been better used for true local newsroom investment, spending money to retain and recruit those who already understand the communities they cover.

We had hoped for more from Lee Enterprises after it had, just about one year ago, rightly and successfully fended off an acquisition attempt by hedge fund Alden Global Capital, known widely as a newspaper destroyer that cuts staffs to the bone without remorse.

But if Lee hopes to be different, it needs to act differently. Community coverage and investment require more than lip service. Subscribers know when they are paying more for less. 

Beyond the newsroom, we see, hear and feel the frustration of our readers every day as they struggle to access Lee’s second-rate digital platforms or communicate with customer service call takers who are now primarily based in the Philippines. All these issues hinder the company’s overall digital growth and long-term viability. 

There is time for Lee to do what is right and invest in its local communities, so it can fulfill its promise of being a “leading provider of high-quality, trusted local news and information.” For that to happen, it must respect and heed the concerns of its content producers and subscribers.

We need the company to change. We should not be the only ones fighting for stronger local journalism, better services and additional resources in each of our local communities. Lee Enterprises must do better.

That’s what each of our respective cities and communities deserve. 

The Unions of Lee Enterprises represents unionized NewsGuild members at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; The Buffalo News; the Omaha World-Herald; the Richmond Times-Dispatch; the Roanoke Times; the Billings Gazette; the Casper Star-Tribune; the Sioux City Journal; the Charlottesville Daily Progress; the Kenosha News; The Daily News in Longview, Wash.; and the Southern Illinoisan. Follow and contact the Unions of Lee Enterprises on Twitter @LeeUnions.