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Lee among media companies using paycuts, furloughs to make up for lost advertising

Lee Enterprises will use a combination of pay cuts and furloughs to compensate for a loss of advertising resulting from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a memo published last week by the Poynter Institute.

Lee owns newspapers in 25 states, including the Missoulian, Billings Gazette, Montana Standard and the Helena Independent Record. This year, it also purchased nearly three dozen other newspapers from BG Media Group for an estimated $140 million.

In a memo obtained by Poytner, Lee President and CEO Kevin Mowbray said the company’s best efforts weren’t enough to make up for lost advertising revenue.

“Consequently, we are implementing a combination of pay reductions and furloughs,” Mowbray wrote employees. “In the third quarter, the executive team will be taking a 20% reduction in pay on top of a pay reduction implemented in Q1. All other employees will be subject to either a pay reduction or furlough equivalent to two weeks of salary also in the third quarter.”

Several Lee Montana employees have said they have until June to apply the two-week furlough.

Lee isn’t the only large media company making cuts to staff and operations. Gannett already announced company-wide furloughs and other cost-cutting measures while Maven Media Brands, which operates Sports Illustrated, announced layoffs and salary reductions.

BuzzFeed also cut employee pay and many alt-weeklies are either closing or laying off staff. This week, Tribune Publishing also announced a series of permanent pay cuts for non-union staffers that will range from 2% to 10% off their current salaries.

Buyouts also are on the table.

“Consistent with the company’s severance policy, employees will, alternatively, have the option to apply to leave the company and receive severance in lieu of the annual base salary reduction,” Tribune Publishing CEO Terry Jimenez wrote in an email memo.