March 31, 2020

Lee Enterprises joined the list of news organizations hit hard by the coronavirus on Tuesday. In a memo to staff that Poynter obtained, Lee President and CEO Kevin Mowbray thanked employees “for being there when it counts most.” The news of pay cuts and furloughs came nine paragraphs later.

Unfortunately, even our best efforts cannot overshadow the fact that our advertising revenue has been dramatically impacted now and for the near future. To ensure our own sustainability, it’s important that we manage the economic impact to our company. The sacrifices we make now will minimize the long-term damage the pandemic could have on our business.

Consequently, we are implementing a combination of pay reductions and furloughs. In the third quarter, the executive team will be taking a 20% reduction in pay on top of a pay reduction implemented in Q1. All other employees will be subject to either a pay reduction or furlough equivalent to two weeks of salary also in the third quarter.

We do not take these actions lightly and fully understand the sacrifices being made. Our goal is to ensure we weather the difficult days ahead and emerge stronger together with opportunities to grow our business when the pandemic passes.

Lee owns newspapers in 25 states, including the St. Louis (Missouri) Post-Dispatch, the Tulsa (Oklahoma) World and the Omaha (Nebraska) World-Herald. At the beginning of the year, the company bought 31 daily newspapers, including The Buffalo News, from BH Media Group for $140 million.

Lee isn’t the only media company to be hit by economic pains from the coronavirus pandemic.

On Monday:

Previously BuzzFeed cut employee pay, and around the country, alt-weeklies are laying off staff and closing.

Poynter is tracking layoffs, furloughs and closures. If you know of any, please let me know.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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