Local Journalist Receives Outpouring of Support After Being Fired
The last remaining journalist at the Floyd Press says she’s been fired by corporate owner Lee Enterprises after doing an interview detailing difficult work conditions.
That story, "She's a One-Person Newsroom, but Lee Enterprises Kept Cutting" was published by Radio IQ last Thursday.
In an interview Wednesday Ashley Spinks says she doesn’t regret giving the interview because “I think that’s some of the only power that workers have over corporate ownership is to speak truth to power, and speak honestly about their experiences.”
Spinks was paid $36,000 to do the job of a reporter, editor, photographer and layout designer at the Floyd Press. Since Lee Enterprises took control of the paper in March she had been furloughed and the paper’s freelance budget had been slashed. She had been vocal on Twitter about the challenges of doing her job well under the circumstances.
She says she was told she was let go Tuesday afternoon because she had spoken “disparagingly” about Lee Enterprises on social media and had given an interview without corporate permission. She says she was also told she had violated “journalistic ethics.”
She says she asked for specific examples and was given none.
A spokesman for Lee Enterprises declined our interview request Wednesday saying “the company does not comment on personnel matters.” The spokesman did say that the position of Managing Editor of the Floyd Press, the only editorial staff position at the weekly paper, will be posted immediately and that contingencies have been made to cover the absence in the meantime. He said "The Floyd Press will print and be delivered without interruption."
Spinks says she was asked to leave the office immediately after she was given notice of her termination Tuesday. The paper, which publishes each Thursday, was not yet complete.
“I’m deeply sad and worried for the Floyd community,” Spinks said. “I don’t know what the state of the newspaper will be for Floyd this week or in coming weeks.”
Spinks shared the news on Twitter Tuesday afternoon. It’s since been shared thousands of times, including by high-profile journalists like NPR's David Folkenflik, CNN’s Jake Tapper and the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold.
An update: 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. 1/x https://t.co/CdPeDfbKpN— Ashley Spinks Dugan (@AshleyinNRV) October 13, 2020
Spinks says she’s grateful for the outpouring of support. She’s received multiple tips for future journalism opportunities as well as enough financial donations to keep her afloat for some time.
“It’s not about me… it’s about the situation, which is the dismantling of local journalism and I think people are rightly and deeply concerned about that,” Spinks said.
In the original article Spinks detailed an investigative project she’d like to undertake but didn’t have the time or resources for. She’s since received an offer from the nonprofit newsroom ProPublica to fund an initial inquiry.
Still want to do that water testing in your county? @propublica will fund it, and a week of your time for you to see if there's a story there. DMing you. https://t.co/T9UqwBtJDO— Alexandra Zayas (@AlexandraZayas) October 14, 2020
When asked what’s next, Spinks said the most immediate thing on her list is to turn off her phone notifications and enjoy her upcoming wedding weekend. After that, she says her priority is to “stay in the New River Valley, stay in Appalachia, and pay it forward to this community.”
Updated at 1:25 on 10/14 to reflect additional information provided by a spokesman for Lee Enterprises