Ed. — From the Sunday, July 4, print edition.
VIRGINIA BEACH — At least eight more local journalists in June left the combined staff of The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press newspapers following a round of buyouts in the wake of Alden Global Capital’s recent takeover of Tribune Publishing — which already had shed real estate, newsrooms and reporting positions since it bought The Pilot.
Among the most notable losses for Virginia Beach readers is Alissa Skelton, who has covered local government here, including major stories such as the 2019 mass shooting. Skelton declined to comment for this story, but she announced her departure on Twitter on Friday, June 25.
“After five and a half years,” she wrote, “I am saying goodbye to my colleagues at The Virginian-Pilot today. I am so grateful for my time as a journalist [here] … and for all of the people I met along the way. Thank you for letting me tell your stories.”
Virginia Beach City Auditor Lyndon Remias was among the people who responded: “You served a similar role as mine of keeping the public informed and the city accountable. … It’s a shame what’s happening at The Pilot.”
It has been a pleasure to know you. You served a similar role as mine of keeping the public informed and the city accountable. Best of luck in your next endeavor. It’s a shame what’s happening at the Pilot.
— Lyndon Remias (@lsr757) June 25, 2021
Indeed, The Pilot has lost its City Hall reporter at a crucial time in Virginia Beach. The city faces challenges with public safety, recovering from the pandemic and massive changes to its local voting system.
And the recent losses at the newspaper join a pile of changes on the local media landscape over the past few years, where The Pilot has remained the largest organization in the region with the most resources aimed at Virginia Beach. Amid technology changes, the loss of local ownership has been part of a gutting of talent at The Pilot, which now effectively is merged with the Daily Press in Newport News.
As The Independent News has covered in stories and columns you can read elsewhere at this website, ownership by Tribune has meant massive cuts to staff, shuttering of bureaus, closure and layoffs at the former printing plant on Greenwich Road and less depth in its local coverage.
The Pilot shed staff under its former local ownership starting especially in the late 2000s, but then the newsroom had more than 200 people. When Tribune purchased The Pilot in 2018, reporters at The Pilot, the Daily Press and two small newspapers organized in a union, the Tidewater Media Guild.
At the time, Skelton told The Independent News she hoped a union would help The Pilot stabilize.
“I think maybe the public is not as aware about how dire the situation could be in the future,” she said at the time.
One of the things a newspaper loses when experienced people move on is depth in its reporting. “The longer you’re in a community, the more you know a community,” Skelton said in 2018.
But Tribune set about shrinking the staff, selling off real estate, closing bureaus, even shutting down the printing plant on Greenwich Road, which meant additional job losses on the production side.
Reporters no longer have a newsroom to work in – not in Virginia Beach or anywhere else in Hampton Roads.
And last year, after Alden Global Capital had secured a 32 percent share of Tribune, the move was followed by a round of buyouts, according to reporting by The Chicago Tribune. It offered buyouts to people with eight years experience then, and The Pilot reported 20 people left at the time.
Numbers provided by the union in June show a bleak trend of decline in only three years since the guild was certified. The newsroom staff at The Pilot and Daily Press has shrunk from 101 to 38 people, and the number is believed to be 36 due to other departures that weren’t from buyouts.
Grim numbers showing the full picture of Alden's buyouts at our papers and others: https://t.co/AiVIwQsIV2 The job losses at the @virginianpilot @Daily_Press @vagazette @TidewaterReview from recognition until now are the largest in the company percentage wise. pic.twitter.com/Aza9oqVscW
— Tidewater Media Guild (@TidewaterGuild) June 24, 2021
The union also represents newsroom personnel from Tidewater Review and The Virginia Gazette, which had six between them in 2018. One remains today.
Job losses at the four papers represented by the guild “are the largest in the company percentage wise,” the union said in a social media statement after the recent buyouts. Tribune’s holdings include The Chicago Tribune and The Baltimore Sun.
“These numbers absolutely break my heart,” Skelton wrote on Twitter on Friday, June 25. “In 2018, The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press had 101 journalists in our bargaining unit. The papers will have just 36 people left after the buyouts.”
Skelton wrote that two others quit after the buyouts were announced.
Jonathan Edwards, who covered public safety in Norfolk for The Pilot, announced that he was among those leaving. On Monday, June 28, Edwards on social media wrote about what a diminished local paper means for its community.
“The real losers are the people of Hampton Roads because it means fewer reporters watchdogging those in power, making sure they’re spending taxpayer money wisely and not engaging in misconduct,” Edwards wrote. ”Hampton Roads deserves better. Virginia deserves better.”
Amy Poulter, a reporter who covered the arts and music for The Pilot, announced her departure on Facebook: “I took a buyout offer because, honestly, I cannot stomach the anxiety that comes with working in print journalism anymore.”
Poulter has worked at the newspaper for a few years. She previously worked at Southside Daily, a now-defunct online news organization covering Virginia Beach, and was a reporting intern at The Independent News.
“I think it’s a travesty that there is no regional newspaper anymore,” Virginia Beach Vice Mayor Jim Wood said during an interview on Tuesday, June 29.
“When I was first elected in 2002, there were no fewer than three reporters who covered Virginia Beach, and they had specialties, and there was always at least one at City Hall,” Wood said. “Now, there’s really nobody. There was an office in Virginia Beach, there was an editor in Virginia Beach, and, if you wanted to talk to the media about anything going on, it was easy to talk to a reporter. That’s just absolutely disappeared now.”
Wood said he was surprised that a journalist as young as Skelton is among the folks the Alden-controlled Tribune is buying out.
“I don’t know what is left of The Pilot,” he said. “There is no physical plant or presence I’m aware of. When you have reporters getting buyouts for their first job out of college, that’s telling.”
It’s not certain what will come next, but Wood said local journalism is needed.
“I think there should be a dedicated newspaper for Virginia Beach,” Wood said.
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