Tribune Publishing is closing the physical offices of five of its newsrooms due to the economic pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribune Publishing closed newsrooms for The Daily News in Lower Manhattan; the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland; the Orlando Sentinel in Florida; The Morning Call in Allentown, Pennsylvania; and the Carroll County Times in Maryland, reports the Chicago Tribune. The newspapers will continue to be published, but the newsrooms will not have physical offices for the foreseeable future. The company told employees they would be working at home until at least the beginning of next year.
In an email to employees, spokesperson Max Reinsdorf wrote, “As we progress through the pandemic and as needs change, we will consider our need for physical offices. We will keep employees informed of decisions as they are made.”
The Daily News, which used to have the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country, was closed on Wednesday, but the paper is giving employees until the end of October to gather their personal belongings.
“With no clear path forward in terms of returning to work, and as the company evaluates its real estate needs in light of health and economic conditions brought about by the pandemic, we have made the difficult decision to permanently close the office,” said Reinsdorf.
In June 2018, a gunman opened fire at the Capital Gazette, fatally shooting five members of the newspaper’s newsroom. Six other employees survived.
“We’ve hung all the awards we’ve been given, all the photos of our dead colleagues,” said Danielle Ohl of The Capital Gazette of the Gazette office, in an article published in The New York Times. “It felt like we finally had somewhere we know we will be, and we can move forward. And now we have to leave again. And not only are we leaving, but we’re leaving with nowhere else to go.”
Those disappointed in Tribune Publishing’s decision shared their concerns on Twitter:
This news comes just a week after Tribune Publishing reported its second quarter financials.
“We also continued to aggressively manage our cost structure to substantially offset both secular revenue declines and incremental advertising and other revenue losses brought about by the pandemic. In the second quarter of 2020 we took substantial and necessary expense actions across all of our business units and functions,” Jimenez added.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated our transition to digital. We continue our efforts to expand our digital subscriptions business, which netted 49,000 additional subscribers in the second quarter. That growth marks our highest single quarter of digital subscriber acquisition since we launched our Digital Subscription product line many years ago, and we are pleased that these new readers recognize the value in our product,” said Terry Jimenez, president and CEO of Tribune Publishing, in an August 5 news release.
We understand that newspapers are hurting in the pandemic as they lose precious advertising revenue. Costs need to be cut, and employees need to be kept safe. But is eliminating newsrooms the answer? Is this a decision made by hedge fund Alden Global Capital in an attempt to become more profitable before they buy controlling interest after next June’s shareholder meeting? Local journalism remains important, but decisions like these undermine the ability of journalists and their support teams (e.g., publishers, editors, photographers, etc.) to do their jobs properly. There is more to the story here.