Facing an uncertain future, Hampton Roads print reporters rally to save local journalism

Five-year-old Caden White saw a rally in support of local journalism on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach and walked over to join it with his father, John White, a local teacher. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Ed. — From the Sunday, May 23, print edition. The day after the print edition went to press late Thursday, May 20, shareholders voted to approve the sale discussed in this story.


MOUNT TRASHMORE — Journalists and supporters of their work rallied on Saturday, May 15, in an urgent attempt to save local newspapers facing an ownership change. 

The rally was a push from the Tidewater Media Guild, which has been fighting to preserve the future of local publications after years of struggle in the print media industry. 

Tribune Publishing, which owns The Virginian-Pilot and the Daily Press in Newport News, as well as The Chicago Tribune and others, was scheduled to hold a shareholder’s vote on Friday, May 21, on Alden Global Capital’s effort to buy the company.

Sara Gregory, an education reporter with The Pilot and chairperson of the Tidewater Media Guild, said they held the rally to show shareholders and the community how important the local newspapers are.

“The shareholder vote is really going to determine what local journalism in Hampton Roads looks like,” Gregory said. 

Alden, a New York hedge fund, is the largest shareholder of Tribune Publishing. In February, Alden made an agreement to buy the rest of the company for $17.25 per share or $633 million in stock sales, according to The Chicago Tribune. The proposed purchase would need two-thirds of the shareholders voting in favor of it to be approved, The Tribune reported. The Tidewater Media Guild is circulating petitions urging shareholders to vote against the purchase. 

Reporter Josh Reyes, a member of the Tidewater Media Guild executive board, was among the local journalists and supporters who gathered to rally in May 2021 in support of local journalism and against the takeover of Tribune Publishing by Alden Global Capital. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Peter Dujardin, a member of the guild and crime and courts reporter at the Daily Press, expressed concerns over further potential cuts at the newspapers. Dujardin said Tribune has already made many cuts at both newspapers, which has left reporters covering more topics than ever before.  

“There’s so many stories that are being left by the wayside,” Dujardin said, adding that the papers are “not giving readers the news that they deserve.”

Dujardin said he wished there were more options on the table for Tribune, and, while he hoped the shareholders will reject the deal, he doesn’t think they will. 

Sierra Jenkins, a breaking news and Covid-19 reporter at The Pilot and Daily Press, said she’s noticed barriers in doing her job well. 

Jenkins grawduated from Georgia State in 2019 and joined The Pilot and the Daily Press in December.

“For a young journalist like me … I’m still learning the job, and with any job you learn from your colleagues,” Jenkins said. “I don’t have that ability anymore because we don’t have a newsroom.” 

The downtown Norfolk building housing The Pilot newsroom was sold last year to be turned into apartments. Pilot employees were supposed to move into the Daily Press newsroom in Newport News, but that office space, too, was closed last year.  

At Mount Trashmore, journalists and supporters spoke about the importance of local journalism to the small crowd holding up signs in support. 

State Del. Mike Mullin, D-93rd District, likened the pattern of companies acquiring then cutting costs at local publications to an infection. 

“The idea that two of the most profitable newspapers in the country somehow have to be shut down and combined is bizarre, if not criminal,” Mullin said. “It seems like this is something like vampire capitalism.”

John White, a local high school Latin teacher, said he had wandered upon the rally after being pulled toward it by his son, Caden, and he had no idea what was in store. 

White said he had stopped paying attention to a lot of news, but after reading about the gas panic in the The Pilot, he said he felt like The Pilot was reporting what was really impacting him. 

Local journalists hope to keep providing that information to readers here. 

Gregory said no matter what happens during the vote, the guild will continue to advocate for local journalism.

“We’re not gonna go quietly,” Gregory said.

Journalists Josh Reyes and Johanna Somers attend a rally hosted by the Tidewater Media Guild in support of local news reporting on Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Mount Trashmore in Virginia Beach. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

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