Lee Enterprises is looking to fill a difficult job. The media company has posted the Newsroom Editor position for Floyd Press, a small newspaper based in rural Virginia, after firing the previous editor, Ashley Spinks. The 26-year-old journalist had talked to Virginia public radio station WVTF about her struggles running the weekly publication under Lee’s management for a story called “She’s a One-Person Newsroom, But Lee Enterprises Kept Cutting.”
Days after the piece published, Spinks was fired on a conference call for speaking disparagingly about the company to the press. In shock, Spinks tweeted her stunned reaction: “I got fired today for doing this interview. Less than 24 hours before the Press goes to print. The paper is not finished, don’t know how it will be. On a personal level: it’s 3 days before my wedding, which my superiors knew. They couldn’t even wait for next week.”
The incident went viral as her story became yet another unfortunate example of the dire state of local journalism as an industry, not just because of her firing but also because of the expectations her role held in the first place. “I was the only full time editorial staffer,” Spinks told Washingtonian in an interview last week. “I was technically the editor, but really what that meant in practice was spending 80 to 90 percent of my time reporting like a beat reporter, going to local meetings and events, interviewing people for human interest stories and features, taking pictures, and doing all the work that goes along with that. In addition, editing stories from freelancers and press releases and laying out the paper each week.”
Spinks was editor, reporter, photographer, designer, copy editor, producer, and did we mention that the salary was $36,000? When she had thought initially about whether Lee would be upset by her participating in the WVTF profile, Spinks said she didn’t expect them to go so far as to lose her as a resource. She had been running the paper on a shoestring for longer than a year. “Maybe naively, I honestly didn’t think that they would fire me because it would be really hard to replace me,” said Spinks. “That sounds arrogant but that’s not how I mean it—given the resources at the paper and given what they’re paying, there are very few people willing to do that job.”
As of now, Lee Enterprises is moving forward with trying to replace Spinks. The job description is an 18-point bulleted list detailing responsibilities including editing, social media, coverage planning, and more—with the same $36,000 salary. Lee’s challenges extend far beyond Virginia, too; the company has had a long year of layoffs, budget cuts, and furloughs across the dozens of local papers it owns.