Saturday, October 20, 2018

Lee Enterprises Continues to Decline - Is the Future of the JT in Question?

Longtime Billings Gazette publisher Mike Gulledge—who also serves VP of publishing at Lee Enterprises and regional publisher of the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic—has announced his resignation from the company, effective Sept. 30.
The announcement comes just days after Iowa-based Lee Enterprises abruptly shuttered the Missoula Independent and Montana Magazine, two titles also serving the state but not directly under Gulledge’s purview.
The departures come as Lee Enterprises attempts to reduce its debt—which it has slashed by 31 percent over the past three years but still totals nearly $500 million, according to its most recent earnings report—primarily by reducing headcount and printing costs. A number of its properties have undergone staff cuts over the past several months, including its largest newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where layoffs have become a regular occurrence over the past decade.
Elsewhere, the company is grappling with newsrooms attempting to unionize, as has been the case at the Southern Illinoisian, Wyoming’s Casper Star-Tribune, and the Missoula Independent, where Lee most recently followed through on its threat to shut down the paper entirely unless newly unionized employees agreed to let the company cut two-thirds of them, according to the staffers.
Staffers at the Casper Star-Tribune have repeatedly expressed distrust in Lee’s ownership and suggested that the April dismissal of features editor Elise Schmelzer, who was named Wyoming Young Journalist of the Year in 2017, was motivated by her support for the paper’s union. (Schmelzer was subsequently scooped up by the Denver Post, where she is now a breaking news reporter.)
In June, Lee Enterprises further expanded its portfolio of local newspapers when it reached a deal with Berkshire Hathaway to manage its 26 local newspapers, including Virginia’s Richmond Times-Dispatch and Nebraska’s Omaha World-Herald—which laid off 10 staffers and eliminated a further 13 positions two months later.

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