Bracing for change

Guild takes action after sale of The News to Lee Enterprises

By Sandy Tan

It seems nearly incomprehensible that after decades of being owned by the Butler family, and then by the stable and hands-off Warren Buffett/Berkshire Hathaway, The Buffalo News will now be owned by a corporate media company for the first time in history.

Our time as an independently run city newspaper is over.

Publisher Warren Colville announced the change in the early morning hours of Jan. 29. In a few short weeks, Lee Enterprises will become only the third owner that our paper has ever had.

Our ties to Berkshire Hathaway are not completely severed, however, since Berkshire Hathaway is now the sole lender for all of Lee Enterprises’ debt.

There is still a lot we don’t know, but more answers are rolling out in the coming days as the transfer of ownership marches toward completion in mid-March. But despite all the uncertainty, there is one thing that we already know. And that is, there are far worse corporate owners than Lee.

As has already been shared with many of our members, all union contracts at The Buffalo News carry over to the new owners. In recent history, Lee has worked productively with unions at the other papers Lee owns or manages.

All of their larger papers still publish seven days a week, as do most of their smaller ones. They appear to place value on local journalism.

Of course, it’s not all roses and sunshine. The company has employed a very templated website across all its other papers than what we have at The News. They’ve also sold some newspaper buildings.

Buyouts, reductions through attrition, and layoffs have occurred. Some papers even reported lower rates of staff reduction than under prior corporate owners. Consolidation of some newspaper functions have also occurred, with Lee Enterprises using hubs to handle particular kinds of work. Some larger papers, though, have actually become hubs and grown in certain areas.

This is what we know based on the work of many Guild members who called reporters and editors at a dozen other newspapers owned or managed by Lee.

The Buffalo News will be one of the largest, if not the largest, newspaper in the Lee chain, so we need to wait and see what changes may, or may not, apply to us.

Now is not the time to make any big decisions about the future until more information is available regarding how the sale will directly affect us, our jobs and our benefits.

We encourage all members to attend the upcoming State of the News meetings on Wednesday and ask as many thoughtful questions as possible since our publisher has offered to either provide answers or try to get answers to address employee concerns.

Finally, there is no better time to support the work of the Guild. As we learn more, we will share more. Our ownership may be changing, but the strength of the Guild and our union’s commitment to its members isn’t changing at all.

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In response to the announcement that The Buffalo News will be sold to Lee Enterprises, several Buffalo Newspaper Guild journalists reached out to newsroom and editorial employees at Lee publications across the country. We wanted to find out how, exactly, the company oversaw operations, what changes have been made under Lee’s leadership and how the ownership has impacted those newsrooms.

Here are findings from 12 newspapers. Circulation figures were compiled by the CWA research department and distributed in October of 2018.

Read the full version of the Frontier Reporter here: