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Happy Thanksgiving! You’re all fired

Tuesday, Nov 21, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* From the News Guild

The Unions of Lee Enterprises is denouncing plans by Lee Enterprises to sell The Southern Illinoisan newspaper to Paxton Media Group under terms that will result in the elimination of all the local journalists who currently work for it.

Despite pronouncements by Paxton Media on Oct. 27 that it will foster “community-based journalism” and “expand” coverage through the purchase of The Southern Illinoisan, the entire union-represented newsroom has been told they should clear out their desks by Nov. 24. […]

While the specific terms of the deal have not been disclosed, it appears Paxton is simply buying the paper’s name, advertising and subscriber lists while refusing to employ the 10 union journalists who have spent their livelihoods informing the local community. This is the definition of union busting.

Meanwhile, the Unions of Lee Enterprises is aware of a local investor from the community who has offered to match or exceed the purchase price for The Southern Illinoisan. The counteroffer would continue contracting with other Lee Enterprises holdings, honor the union contract, and maintain the employment of its newsroom journalists, ensuring continued quality journalism for the local community. […]

If this is the road Lee Enterprises intends to travel, where it guts newspaper holdings and passes on what’s left to disingenuous buyers who will disinvest in local news coverage, then all the communities where Lee owns news organizations have reason to fear for the future. This is not a plan for long-term growth. In fact, it’s no kind of plan at all.


PMG, according to a letter from the Unions of Lee Enterprises, decided to let go of the paper’s 10 journalists and editors once its purchase was finalized.

In response, the Unions of Lee Enterprises filed a grievance which pauses the purchase and questions Lee Enterprises’ motives behind the sale. Halstead believes the sale fails to protect the union and its members.

“They sold it as an asset. So it’s like somebody selling their kitchen table,” Halstead said.

The grievance argues Lee Enterprises failed to follow the successorship language established in the union’s collective bargaining agreement.

Once settled, 10 reporters and editors with over 80 years of combined experience will be gone. […]

Halstead says their last day was originally November 24, Black Friday. The grievance bought them at least another week of work. What happens next is anyone’s guess.


  1. - Annon'in - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:34 am:

    Sadm, but not surprising. Guess that puts the Daily Egyptian in the drivers’ seat.

  2. - Nearly Normal - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:43 am:

    Our local paper, The Pantagraph, is also owned by Lee Enterprises. They have so reduced the staff that we share editors and reporters with other papers Lee owns in the area. Local news is not what it used to be that’s for sure! Some days the paper is full of news about Decatur and very little about BloNo. Our local weekly, The Normalite, covers Town of Normal Council meetings and we have WGLT public radio that covers the area as well as Illinois State. It was the radio station that broke the news about the problems with the athletic director, etc. not the Pantagraph.

  3. - SOIL M - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:48 am:

    I am very surprised by this. Who knew the Southern still had local news reporters?

  4. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:48 am:

    ===Our local weekly, The Normalite, covers Town of Normal Council meetings===

    Owned by an old friend of my parents.

  5. - Flyin'Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:58 am:

    Haven’t taken the Southern for years. Never like to see anyone lose their jobs, but this has been coming for quite some time.

    On a brighter note, Paddock recently purchased our weekly wipe, the Gazette Democrat, and IMO improved it.

  6. - CornfieldCowboy - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 11:58 am:

    Belleville News Democrat
    (while a different corporates group) cannot be too far behind, it’s content is less & less. The paper’s Facebook posts are the most telling - some local sports coverage outside of that maybe one or two local stories a week.

  7. - Dotnonymous x - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 12:13 pm:

    “A government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” . Thomas Jefferson

  8. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 12:15 pm:

    I really don’t understand this “business model.” Buy a paper, lay off staff, lose readers because the reporting coverage is so poor, lay off more staff, lose more readers, sell/shut it down.

    It’s very disappointing. I know they (the owners & execs) like to blame a loss in readers on people going on-line, but what do they expect when the paper they sell has so little to attract and keep readers? People buy the local paper for local news - no local news, no need to buy the paper. My hope is that new papers will begin to rise and serve that need; only time will tell.

  9. - The Ford Lawyer - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 12:25 pm:

    Vulture capitalism at its finest. Truly disgusting. As a guy who got his start in print journalism, I am saddened that traditional newspapers are now a relic of the past. That does not mean that there is not a workable business model for local “newspapers” as online entities. I would love to see a whole lot more of that, and a whole lot less of corporate vultures eating the carcasses of venerable old print institutions.

  10. - Gus Bode - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 12:47 pm:

    I really hope the sports reporter sent to Cancun to cover SIU in the holiday basketball tournament this week got his expenses covered upfront.

  11. - Amalia - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 12:48 pm:

    losing newspapers narrows professional views of our communities and world. and opens wide the chasm that guys like Proft run into with fake news.

  12. - Drury's Missing Clock - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 1:40 pm:

    Not a new trend in media, but the rate seems to be increasing.
    Journalists are going to have to become more entrepreneurial to maintain their careers for the next generation. The future business model of news looks a lot more like CapFax or Substack than the Pantagraph, Argus, etc.

  13. - Larry Darrell - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 2:27 pm:

    The situation with the Southern Illinoisan sale is so frustrating.
    I don’t know where to start.
    Our area needs local coverage, shining a light on local government, state and federal agencies operating locally (look at Molly Parker’s coverage of fraud in Cairo’s public housing - she did that story while working at The Southern!)

    Just giving up and saying ‘Oh well’ there’s nothing we can do, it’s happening everywhere, is not acceptable to me - a thriving newspaper industry is essential for our democracy.

  14. - MisterJayEm - Tuesday, Nov 21, 23 @ 3:55 pm:

    “all the communities where Lee owns news organizations have reason to fear for the future”

    As should all communities with news organizations that Lee might purchase.

    “I really don’t understand this ‘business model.’”

    Once you realize that their business model is resource extraction, their behavior makes more sense. Like in strip mining, the goal is to pull as much value as possible from the news org as quickly and cheaply as possible.

    One way to do it is by increasing margins by cutting the staff faster than habitual subscribers will cancel their subscriptions. Another way is by degrading the paper with “advertorial” content. And reducing the paper’s page count is obviously another obvious.

    Once the news org has been drained of its last nickle and every bit of good will associated with its name, its empty husk is cast aside.

    If that still doesn’t make any sense to you, it’s probably because you are a decent human being.

    – MrJM

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