Friday, October 16, 2020

Weekly's 'one-woman newsroom' fired after radio interview

Ashley Spinks (Radio IQ photo by Mallory Noe-Payne)
The sole remaining journalist at the Floyd Press in rural Virginia says she was fired by owner Lee Enterprises after talking publicly about difficult work conditions. Lee said the recent interview with Radio IQ was one reason editor-reporter Ashley Spinks was fired, Mallory Noe-Payne reports for Virginia NPR affiliate WVTF. Spinks also spoke to The Daily Yonder in early September.

Lee, one of the nation's largest newspaper chains, bought more than a dozen dailies and weeklies throughout Virginia from BH Media for $140 million in March. It cut costs across the board, firing reporters, outsourcing work and furloughing staff. Spinks was furloughed in March and saw the paper's freelance budget slashed, Noe-Payne reports.

Spinks "says she was told she was let go Tuesday afternoon because she had spoken 'disparagingly' about Lee Enterprises on social media and had given an interview without corporate permission," Noe-Payne reports. "She says she was also told she had violated 'journalistic ethics.' She says she asked for specific examples and was given none."

Though Lee wouldn't otherwise comment on Spinks' firing, the company said it would post her job immediately and is will cover her absence in the meantime. Spinks said in a tweet that she was fired while the paper was incomplete, less than 24 hours before going to print, and that it was three days before her wedding, which her superiors knew, Noe-Payne reports.

Spinks got a wave of support and encouragement on Twitter. "Spinks says she’s grateful for the outpouring of support," Noe-Payne reports. "She’s received multiple tips for future journalism opportunities as well as enough financial donations to keep her afloat for some time." Nonprofit newsroom ProPublica has offered to fund an investigative project about local water quality.

Spinks told Payne she's not worried about herself. "It’s not about me… it’s about the situation, which is the dismantling of local journalism and I think people are rightly and deeply concerned about that."

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