Southside mayors criticize Virginian-Pilot’s move to Peninsula

Regional News
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The Virginian-Pilot building is photographed in Norfolk, Va., on Sunday, September 2, 2018. Journalists at The Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press, both Tronc owned papers, announced their decision to form a union under the name Tidewater Media Guild.

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — Just one week after staff at the Virginian-Pilot learned its newsroom would be moving to the Virginia Peninsula, public officials are publicly condemning the decision.

Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer and Chesapeake Mayor Rick West sent out a joint press release Monday saying they are “saddened and dismayed” by Tribune Publishing’s choice to move the Virginian-Pilot’s newsroom out of the Southside and to the Daily Press office in Newport News.

The mayors also urged Tribune to reconsider its decision, as it moves the Pilot’s journalists away from the mayors’ respective cities — the three largest in the newspaper’s coverage area.

“The Virginian-Pilot has called Norfolk home since 1937 and this move will hurt the daily news coverage for the most populous areas of the region,” Alexander said. “Awareness of the actions of local government and the local politics driving those actions is crucial to a connected, informed and involved citizenry. Without a local newspaper connected to our community, informed citizen participation in local government will suffer.”

Buyouts and building sales

The move the Newport News is the latest segment in a series of changes with the Pilot and Tribune Publishing.

The Virginian-Pilot was sold to Tribune — at the time, the company was named “Tronc” — in 2018 after being owned by the same family for more than a century.

In late 2019, Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund known for cutting from news companies to maximize profits, bought a 32-percent stake in Tribune.

In January, the Virginian-Pilot building on West Brambleton Avenue in Norfolk was sold to the Monument Cos. for $9.5 million. The developer said it would turn the four-story, 173,000-square-foot building into 181 apartments.

Following the sale of the Pilot building and stock purchase by Alden Global Capital, Tribune offered buyouts to its Virginia Media staff. About 20 journalists left the Pilot this month, as well as others at the Daily Press.

The stock acquisition by Alden and ensuing buyouts added insult to injury for the journalists of Tribune’s Virginia papers: the Pilot, Daily Press and Virginia Gazette.

“Unlike Tribune, we asked employees what matters most to them, and overwhelmingly, journalists said they want a newsroom on the Southside,” Pilot reporter Sara Gregory said last week, speaking on behalf of the paper’s union, the Tidewater Media Guild. “People were concerned about our ability to cover this community and respond to breaking news. They were also concerned about longer commutes and the effect of breaking up our newsroom.”

‘Need our local paper to stay local’

The three mayors in the news release Monday requested Tribune reconsider the decision.

The mayors said maintaining a newsroom in south Hampton Roads would keep reporters local and show the paper’s commitment to local news.

Barring traffic, the drive from Newport News to Virginia Beach is about 40 minutes.

Gregory said there will be a “coworking” space at the Pilot’s Virginia Beach printing press location on Greenwich Road, although as of last week the details were vague, Gregory said.

“As much as technology is changing the world, news reporting for local government still needs local reporters writing local stories. With the cuts the Virginian-Pilot has already endured, local coverage has been shrinking. I fear it will all but disappear with the newspaper leaving South Hampton Roads.”

– Mayor Rick West, Chesapeake

“The Virginian-Pilot has been a driving force for transparency and change in government, and now that reporters will be based across the water, it will be harder for reporters to do the job that residents need them to do. We need our local newspaper to stay local.”

– Mayor Bobby Dyer, Virginia Beach

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