Employees of The Daily Progress as well as at dozens of newspapers owned by its parent company, Lee Enterprises Inc., will be required to take two weeks of unpaid leave between now and the end of June.
Davenport, Iowa-based Lee Enterprises told employees Tuesday morning that the steps were necessary because of a slump in advertising revenue that has hit print media especially hard from the coronavirus.
“Unfortunately, even our best efforts cannot overshadow the fact that our advertising revenue has been dramatically impacted now and for the near future,” Kevin Mowbray, president and CEO of Lee Enterprises, wrote to employees.
“To ensure our own sustainability, it’s important that we manage the economic impact to our company. The sacrifices we make now will minimize the long-term damage the pandemic could have on our business,” Mowbray said. “We do not take these actions lightly and fully understand the sacrifices being made. Our goal is to ensure we weather the difficult days ahead and emerge stronger together with opportunities to grow our business when the pandemic passes.”
Lee Enterprises now owns and operates 77 daily newspapers including The Daily Progress and nine other dailies in Virginia. It also owns newspapers in St. Louis; Davenport; Lincoln, Nebraska; Madison, Wisconsin; Billings, Montana; and Tucson, Arizona.
Employees will be required to take either a pay reduction or furlough time off that is the equivalent of two weeks of salary. Company executives will be taking a 20% reduction in pay.
Lee Enterprises acquired BH Media Group, which had owned The Daily Progress, The Richmond Times Dispatch, The Roanoke Times, and The Buffalo News in New York from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. on March 16. The deal added 30 daily newspapers as well as more than 49 paid weekly publications and 32 other print products from BH Media.
Other newspaper groups across the country have taken similar steps of furloughing workers, laying off employees or cutting back on print publications.
Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper operator based on circulation, is furloughing employees at more than 100 newspapers across the country, including USA Today. Workers who make more than $38,000 a year will be required take one week of unpaid leave in April, May and June. The Tampa Bay Times announced furloughs and a reduction of its print newspaper to just twice a week.
Furloughs and closures also have hit other sectors of the national and regional economy.
Macy’s and Kohls announced Monday that they will furlough tens of thousands of employees in response to collapsing sales during the pandemic.
In the Charlottesville and Albemarle County, restaurants, gyms, salons and retailers have closed or severely scaled back operations in response to Gov. Ralph Northam’s social distancing directives.