The same week the Daily Progress won a whopping 42 awards at the April 8 Virginia Press Association banquet, including 13 first-place plaques, the paper, which is owned by a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, laid off three employees.
The Progress, like many other former Media General-owned newspapers, thought it had been thrown a life raft when Buffett bought Media General’s print operations in 2012.
And while national newspapers like the New York Times and the Washington Post have seen a surge in subscriptions since the 2016 election, that growth hasn’t trickled down to local levels. The Daily Progress had a circulation of 21,274 in 2012, but by 2016 it was down to 14,693, the Columbia Journalism Review reports, a nearly 31 percent drop.
BH Media Group, which owns 31 daily newspapers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Roanoke Times, handed out pink slips April 3 to 181 employees and another 108 vacant positions were slashed because of declining advertising revenue and circulation, according to BH Media CEO Terry Kroeger in a memo. The particularly hard hit RTD axed 33 employees, including 13 in the newsroom.
The Progress had to do some “belt-tightening” to adjust for revenue declines, says publisher Rob Jiranek, who was a C-VILLE Weekly owner from 1995-2006. That affected three people in advertising, he says in an email, and other positions won’t be filled immediately.
“Newsroom remains strong, like bull,” he writes.
Jiranek echoes Buffett’s earlier belief in local papers when he told the CJR there’s “certainly a strong instinct and faith that we need to maintain the fundamental strength of our newsrooms and the core competency of great, local journalism. And I underscore ‘local’ in the phrase like three times.”
A couple of weeks ago, a report circulated that the Newsplex was cutting its weekend news broadcast in a cost-saving move and would simulcast news from WHSV in Harrisonburg.
That option had been discussed, and then discarded, says Jay Barton, Newsplex general manager. One technical position has been cut, he says.
The Newplex’s Charlottesville CBS, Fox and ABC stations are owned by Atlanta-based Gray Television, and Barton says the operating cuts were based on individual local station needs and were not company wide.
“Our company is as strong as it has ever been, and only growing,” says Barton in an email. “When I joined the company in 2012, we served 31 markets and Gray now serves 56 markets with a market cap of just under $1 billion.”
Updated 11am April 18 with Jiranek’s C-VILLE ownership.