NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot newspapers will soon be without a physical newsroom.
The combined staff learned Tuesday that Tribune Publishing, which owns both papers, will close the Daily Press office at City Center in Newport News by the end of the month. It comes just months after the Pilot’s longtime home in Norfolk was closed after being sold earlier this year. The Daily Press office was intended to be the new headquarters for the Pilot.
The Daily Press reported Tuesday that the paper’s landlord had sued in June for more than $110,000 for failure to pay rent, according to court documents. Tribune recently admitted to failing to pay rent in a majority of its facilities, and was asking for rent relief. The company also just shut down several other physical newsrooms in the U.S. in August, including the New York Daily News and Capital Gazette in Annapolis.
In an email, Tribune said it’s evaluating its workforce needs, but doesn’t expect to make any decisions on a possible new building at least though the end of 2020 due to the pandemic.
Staff had mostly been working from home, but they say the lack of a physical newsroom has significant disadvantages, including limiting collaboration, and a lack of space for interviews.
Meanwhile staff say Tribune is not reimbursing them for extra costs associated with working for home, despite union talks since April.
Pilot reporter Sara Gregory, who chairs the Tidewater Media Guild union, says staff have been given a 10 day notice to pack up their belongings from the Daily Press office.
Delegate Mike Mullin (D-Va. 93rd), who represents the area in the House of Delegates, blasted the decision in tweet. “This is a ridiculous and unnecessary action by a company hellbent on unreasonable profits at the expense of the greater good. #journalismmatters.” Mullin has been a vocal supporter of local newspapers, even going before the House of Delegates this year to talk about the “importance of staying aware of the purchase of local newspapers by national profit-driven corporations.”
In Washington, Virginia senators Mark Warner (D) and Tim Kaine (D) have pushed for relief for local papers in coronavirus relief bills.
The dismantling of Tribune newsrooms accelerated in 2019, when hedge fund Alden Global Capital bought a major stake in Tribune. The group, notoriously known for cutting newsrooms to maximize profits, almost took control of Tribune back in July, but agreed to stand down until at least June of 2021, the New York Times reported.
Employees have also been vocal about their disdain for Alden specifically.
“They (Alden) have a track record of cutting newsrooms to the bone and leaving the local community with nothing as far as local news, and we think that this is the potential death knell for the Pilot and a lot of other papers within the company,” said Pilot reporter Ryan Murphy back in January during a protest over the Pilot building’s sale.
On Tuesday, Gregory laid it out bluntly in a tweet: “Killed by hedge funds.”