Progress Lays off Four in Newsroom

The Daily Progress announced layoffs of newsroom staff today:

The Daily Progress on Monday reduced its employee complement by six in an effort to adapt its operations to continued changes in the marketplace. A sister newspaper in Waynesboro, the News Virginian, also reduced its complement by one on Monday, according to Lawrence McConnell, regional publisher for the newspapers. […] The reduction in force saw four positions eliminated in the Progress newsroom and two in advertising.

So, who got the axe? And who is left? I feel like we need a roll call or something.

(Via NBC 29)

03/31 Update: The Hook reports that two editors and two reporters were let go, and a friend tells me that Features Editor Mary Alice Blackwell is among those. With just sixteen folks on the roster, this amounts to a loss of 25%* of the already-shrunken newsroom.

28 thoughts on “Progress Lays off Four in Newsroom”

  1. I would rather see the DP go web- and kindle-only, and hire back reporters with the large amount of money saved from producing a physical paper. Content trumps form. It’s way too late in the game to get romantic over newsprint, unless you want to pay $5/day for the limited thrill of holding a paper in your hands.

  2. Elux:

    That’s a surefire plan for failure (not saying they aren’t on the road to it already, but still). There’s not enough money to be made in online advertising/banner ads to support an endeavor of that size.

  3. I would pay for a version on the Kindle, however, it would be less than the amount I don’t pay for the paper edition.

  4. That’s a surefire plan for failure (not saying they aren’t on the road to it already, but still). There’s not enough money to be made in online advertising/banner ads to support an endeavor of that size.

    Normally you’d be right, but I don’t think that those rules would apply in this market under those circumstances.

    Nobody has figured out the value of online advertising in a market in which the daily paper exists only online. Advertisers will pay a premium to advertise in the Progress, especially for auto dealerships and real estate. (Now, those two markets are in a slump right now, but those still standing still need to advertise. More important, the slump won’t last forever.) I posit that the value of that advertising will, if not remain consistent with print, certainly be elevated substantially over the cost of online advertising otherwise, by virtue of the online-only paper’s position as the paper of record, the major news source in the region, and its transport of its existing advertisers, ad reps, and relationships to its new online format. Whether that’s enough to run an (online) newspaper, I can’t say. But I don’t think that it’s as economically dire as one might think at first.

  5. A couple cities are trying it I think (I know I remember stories about one paper doing it a month or so ago, and a quick google search turns up some others.. ) I am incredibly skeptical, as so many advertisers devalue online advertising vs. print, for a variety of reasons (some valid, some not so much).

    I especially think a company such as Media General won’t be able to do it right. They’d probably slap up a bunch more interstatial/flash ads, and think that’s how to bring in the dough.

    No offense to those at the DP .. I know numerous employees there and they are fantastic people, often handcuffed by the bureaucracy.

    Ah, here was that paper:

    I don’t know if there any sizeable cities though where there’s *no* print daily.. I assume Seattle has another printed paper.

    Honestly, The HooK and C-Ville do it right, and the DP needs to learn from them. I can read the AP wire anywhere. I can’t read locally focused content like those organizations regularly churn out.

    Am I going to pick up the Daily Progress to read about the presidential elections, the latest natural disaster, plane crash, national news media story of the day? No. If I pick up ANY paper for that, it’ll be the Washington Post or NYT. Most likely, I’m going online to read a variety of sources that’ve been updated recently and have better content/local reporters on the scene, etc etc. The DP isn’t sending reporters out for that, so they just run a wire story.

    To me, that’s space wasted.. I could be reading about the various construction projects going on and the debate raging over them, the local election races, water plans (that the HooK got some big award on, I believe), etc.

    There are only *2* print sources of media in this town for local content, and they come out on a *weekly* basis. That’s an opportunity missed.

  6. It’s all my fault. I cancelled my subscription last week. Got tired of their ultra conservative editorial page. Above is right, Hook & C-Ville do a better job on local issues. National wire stories are just an alert to go online and do the real reading. However, when I’m sitting on my front porch with the morning coffee, the newsprint is way nicer than a computer.

  7. I especially think a company such as Media General won’t be able to do it right. They’d probably slap up a bunch more interstatial/flash ads, and think that’s how to bring in the dough.

    That I’m afraid you’re almost certainly right about. The fact that it can be done (IMHO) doesn’t mean that Media General is capable of it.

  8. How is the DP editorial page “ultra conservative”? I don’t know about the op-ed columnists, but these are the last ten days of editorials by the paper. This is a complete list:

    A civil rights giant passes
    (John Hope Franklin)

    Jobless folks are exploited
    (by banks)

    Be tolerant of free speech

    Wish we’d had that idea first
    (Rock Paper Scissors, Colbert & NASA)

    Again America fails its troops
    (suicides at Fort Bragg)

    Pressure bears bonus fruit

    Mentally ill need housing

    No good deed unpunished?
    (local banks hit by higher FDIC fees)

    GOP a ship sans captain

    Shed a light on tax money

  9. With just sixteen folks on the roster, this amounts to a loss of 25% of the already-shrunken newsroom.

    FWIW, I’m advised that there are more folks who work in the newsroom than are listed on the Daily Progress’ staff listing. I don’t know what that number is, though. Suffice it to say, they’ve lost some large chunk of their staff.

  10. I worked at the progress for a few years in this decade and maintain friends there. When I left a couple of years ago the consensus among reporters was that we were operating with a skeleton crew and that the glory days were long gone. Apparently we were rich beyond our dreams at that point.
    A couple of opinions, which are just that: There’s no way the paper could make much of any money being online only, because as Chad posits, the online ad market is also quite poor at present. Also, the Progress will still be there in 2010, because believe it or not, it still makes money, it just doesn’t make the kind of money that keeps debt-laden public corporations content.
    As for the product, what can you say? It’s about as good as you’re going to get with roughly four reporters and three editors. Granted, almost all print publications (and local TV broadcasters, too) are feeling serious pressure, but the way Media General has systematically screwed this poor paper is an affront.
    (And yea, the editorial page is a joke, but that’s another issue entirely.)

  11. Also, the Progress will still be there in 2010, because believe it or not, it still makes money, it just doesn’t make the kind of money that keeps debt-laden public corporations content.

    Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean it’ll still be around. Let’s pretend that Media General has ten newspapers. Five of them return an 18% profit. Five of them return a 5% profit. Their stockholders are demanding that they improve their bottom line. One way to do this is to ditch the five papers returning the 5% profit. So they sell off the assets and get a one-time injection of capital, and now the company returns an 18% profit, since those are the only newspapers that remain.

    Dumb? Absolutely. But that’s what’s going on.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that somebody can’t buy the paper and maintain it as a going interest. I mean, a 5% return ain’t terrible. Somebody rich might decide to buy the paper at fire-sale prices from Media General, and then, yeah, it can continue.

    But I wouldn’t trust that Media General will maintain it just because it’s profitable. They’re thinking about the company on the whole, and merely “profitable” isn’t enough to keep the shareholders happy.

  12. If you were to be a birdie on the wall among reporters, at the DP and elsewhere, you would probably hear heated debate exactly along the lines of this thread. (Except for the Hook and Cville doing a better job :) )

    More later, I am off to work.

  13. Sooooo sad to hear this… y’all may rip the Progress on a regular basis, but the people who fill that newsroom are some of the best around. They work super hard with VERY limited resources (and very limited pay) to bring information to the area. And unlike the Hook or Cville Weekly, they do it every day, weekends included.

    Any news on who else was cut? Which beats will now have to be absorbed among the limited reporters left?

  14. Yes, its the overall economy. Yes, its how all newspapers are struggling due to competition with the Internet and TV. But MG has taken great efforts to run the paper ,our community paper, into the ground.
    Won’t likely happen, but would be wonderful if someone local bought it and gave us a paper we could be proud of. They might even could re-hire some of the people they have downsized.
    One possibility would be put out a super well-done online paper, with lots of ad revenue, that would in effect subsidize a print edition. People are right, there is a place for an actual newspaper you can hold in your hands.
    Btw, looked at the DP roster and Mary Alice Blackwell was still listed as lifestyles editor. So you might want to check your facts.
    One thing we can all agree on;that paper has gone straight to hell in a handbasket. Its a pity for those who gave it so much of their life and then get tossed aside like last week’s garbage.

  15. Mary Alice has definitely been let go, HollowBoy… it’s just really super sad.

  16. The Daily Progress had a dedicated hard working staff and it is sad to see what is happening. It is easy to take pot shots from the side-lines but the paper comes out daily with a fast deadline and not enough people to edit everything. Please remember that lots of news in, Cville Weekly, and The Hook starts with “The Daily Progress reports…..” Media General pays those reports that collect the news and it is easy for other news sources to then quote them.

  17. y’all may rip the Progress on a regular basis, but the people who fill that newsroom are some of the best around.

    I’m a little puzzled to read this, because you really don’t see that sort of criticism of the Progress here. Whenever the topic comes up, just about everybody agrees that it’s an underfunded publication with a too-small staff that’s doing their best on lousy salaries. Media General gets criticized plenty. And when the Progress gets something genuinely wrong, as happens ever so often, they’re criticized accordingly. But it looks to me like all of the regulars here understand and appreciate who is gathering the news.

  18. I’d hate to see the Hook and Cville be the only print papers in town. They cover local news, but their coverage is far-left. They don’t claim otherwise and that is true of most free alt-papers in cities. However, to claim that DP is right-wing and ignore how much further left the free ones are is extremely cynical.

  19. fdr..I couldn’t agree more. I always find it so funny when certain media outlets are accused of being far right, ignoring the fact that the mass media is extremely far left…..

  20. Later this year, or possibly early next year, Hearst is going to sell a Kindle-like e-reader with wireless subscriptions to some of their newspaper and magazines. Rumors are that it will be larger than a Kindle and possibly in color.

  21. Elux,
    The rumors of which you speak are true. It will also go down as a total failure.

  22. Hey there… Waldo, just to clarify, I wasn’t saying that folks here were trashing the reporters at the DP. But it took me about two minutes to find these comments about the newspaper on the site (and I know there are plenty more):

    -We cancelled our subscription a few years ago and haven’t looked back since. Impressively, they’ve become even less relevant since.

    -There’s still a market here for a daily paper, but not for a propaganda tool for whatever politicians want you to think on a given day.

    -The Progress is getting as bad as its sister Media General paper, the Richmond Times-Disgrace.

    -As for the Daily Progress, I gave up on that paper years ago. I seriously think it’s one of the least useful newspapers I’ve seen anywhere… poorly edited, badly-designed, expensive, and the often-disagreeable editorial page seals the deal.

    Many smaller cities and towns have more-intelligently edited and written daily papers, and it’s shocking that an affluent, well-educated college town like C’ville is so badly-served

    (Me again!) So I’m just sayin’… ripping the press is an easy thing to do. Putting together a daily newspaper? Not so easy.

    Didn’t mean to offend you, though. :-)

  23. I have never lived in a town where people did not trash the local paper and have a derogatory nickname for it. There was even a cottage industry in taking down the NYT, way before the right picked up that cudgel.

    The Progress is pretty weak sometimes, but I don’t see the disgraceful editorial page, unless you are talking about syndicated op-eds. Media General is famously conservative, but they let the DP ed page wander left of center, seems to me.

    The news pages have varied from interesting to fairly bad over the last decade. Certainly lots of bright reporters come out of J school willing to work for a pittance and Cville is an attractive place to live. But then the good, investigating reporter leaves for a bigger paper and we get a season of weak, press-release stenography. Rinse and repeat. The latest cuts may be fatal though.

    Oh the DP once had a book editor, in the same league as the VQR’s editor I believe. That was long ago.

    Since Craig’s List & the weeklies don’t do obits, the loss of a go-to source for that would discomfort a lot of people. You have noticed the obits are literally half the A section now? Partly it’s due to retirees who move here, but mainly it’s the few pages overall. Even if you read every news story in A you’d have time to left over to game of checkers before breakfast. I guess the Richmond paper would take over the obits, but the DP obits are a heck of a lot easier to scan.

    The Richmond TD used to be Cville’s morning paper anyway, with the DP in the afternoon. But nowadays a big part of our town prefers the WP. The business side of the WP is pretty rough, considering how they threw away the good circulation workers last year before Xmas and gave the contract to MG carriers. MG may start printing the WP regionally, according to one of those guys, but I wouldn’t call that reliable info.

    Kurtz in the WP yesterday wrote about Chicago, where both papers are bankrupt, mainly due to debt-loading, and the economics of a online-only paper started by a journalists hiring a bunch of neighborhood amateurs for a very diverse newsroom. The economics are paltry, in a word, but the writers are doing some good work. Note the heavy influence of non-profit foundations.

    It’s reminiscent in one way, maybe only one way, of the old days: few reporters had degrees.

  24. Well, yeah, but that’s four comments from over six months. has received 29,948 comments in the eight years and two days that it’s existed. I’d say that’s a low enough rate to support my point. :) But I also think that I was inferring a distinction that perhaps you weren’t implying—the difference between the newsroom staff and the paper as an entity. You wrote:

    y’all may rip the Progress on a regular basis, but the people who fill that newsroom are some of the best around.

    My point is that it’s rare for anybody to argue that the paper’s reporters aren’t good. Last time I recall seeing that argument being made here was around about 2002, when some Democrats were (wrongly) angry with Jake Mooney for an article he wrote about the City Council election the day before it was held. (Presumably for karmic irony, I see that Colfer just posted while I was writing this, describing how some reporters start off pretty green.) And the fact is that the DP is genuinely in a bad way. It’s thinner than ever, the coverage is often narrow and shallow, investigative reporting is basically gone, and it relies heavily on wire reports. That appears to be entirely the fault of a parent company that has starved it of resources.

    This is similar to the distinction made between opposing the war but supporting individual soldiers in their duty. We can point out the shortcomings of the Daily Progress without impugning the underpaid, overworked employees who put out a paper under difficult conditions every day.

  25. Looks like the RTD is laying more off today:

    (Sorry for the long link. Waldo, you need a “preview comment” function so that I’m more tempted to try fancy things like putting links in text :)

    As a former DP reporter, I always knew that most Progress-bashing comments (and not just here, but on the Hook, the Progress’ comments section and just about every public forum in town) aren’t meant to imply the reporters are stupid or don’t work hard. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t still sting when the Hook felt the need to turn our mistakes into fodder for its own site. No other media outlet in town seems to get quite the bashing that the Progress gets. But it goes with the territory; gotta develop a thick skin in many professions these days.

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