Athens County Newspapers, Journalism Canceled After Layoffs

There’s one county in Ohio where news will be harder to come by in the weeks ahead.

Almost all professional journalists working for two newspapers, both owned by Adams Publishing Group, in Athens County, have been fired or resigned in protest over working conditions in recent weeks.

In the county of Athens, which has around 65,000 inhabitants, newspapers are often the only source of local information. Athens has a PBS affiliate TV station, but the next closest network TV stations are in West Virginia.

Hundreds of counties across the country have the same problem, including Klamath County in Oregon. There, the Herald and News, another newspaper owned by APG, has just lost all of its staff, according to Jefferson Public Radio.

Ironically, Athens County is home to Ohio University, one of the top journalism schools in the country.

Athens News and Athens Messenger employees, some of whom are OU alumni, say the company that bought the papers in 2014, Adams Publishing Group, failed to support its employees and showed disrespect bad ethics. It was these problems, they say, that led to the exodus.

Mark Cohen, president of APG Media of Ohio, declined to comment, saying the company would address the resignations in its article.

APG operates 27 daily newspapers, more than 90 non-daily newspapers and collectively more than 220 media-related products and associated websites in 20 states, according to its website. The Poynter Institute reported that the wealthy Adams family has owned the business and been quietly acquiring newspapers for about seven years.

A story about coin advertisements in The Athens News, Athens Messenger

Until last week, the editor of The Athens News was Corinne Colbert. She began work last June after a 30-year hiatus from journalism.

In December, the Athens News, the Athens Messenger and other APG sites began running advertisements from companies claiming to sell high-value collectibles.

Colbert was suspicious of the announcement and began to research. The company buying the ads had an “F” rating from the Better Business Bureau. There were comments online complaining, and she even received calls from readers stating that they never received the parts they ordered.

Colbert said she brought her concerns to management several times and was told there was nothing she could do about the ads.

On February 23, she published an article in the Athens News and in the Messenger explaining the advertisements to readers. Two days later, she said she was fired for not following instructions and violating company social media policy.

“My problem is not that they fired me for breaking the policy. They have every legal right to fire me for that. What I think is wrong is that they never said a word on tweets before. As far as I know it was a pretext to get rid of me,” Colbert said.

Colbert said she had posted political tweets and previously written that she did not have enough resources to do her job.

The fallout from the shooting

On the day Colbert was fired, Cole Behrens, associate editor of the Athens News and former Enquirer intern, tweeted that he was now the paper’s only responsible reporter and employee. Five days later, Behrens announced his resignation.

Athens Messenger editor-in-chief Alex Hulvalchick wrote a letter of resignation on February 24.

On March 3, Dani Kington, deputy editor of The Messenger, submitted a letter of resignation.

The Messenger’s staff will soon consist of only a sports editor and a photojournalist. The editor of the APG-owned Vinton Courier in neighboring Vinton County, William Meyer, said Thursday he too would quit his job.

A revolving door at the Athens News

Ben Peters, former editor of Athens News, said if Colbert and Behrens are replaced it will mean the entire Athens News editorial staff has been renewed three times since 2020.

Hulvalchick said her main reason for stepping down as editor was workload and long hours.

“It’s a job that’s too much for one person,” Hulvalchick said. “I reached a point where I felt like I didn’t have effective resources to do my job.”

She said this situation where a young reporter is hired, overworked and burns out only for a new one to be hired is common in many small newsrooms and should be cause for concern.

“It’s a revolving door, and it hurts readers. I would love for people to be able to work and stay in a community, but the way a lot of newsrooms are structured now, it makes that incredibly difficult,” he said. said Hulvalchick.

Colbert said newsrooms are down to rudimentary operations and employees don’t have the proper resources to complete their work. She said she once needed a new chair and was told, “APG doesn’t buy furniture.”

Colbert now hopes to start a nonprofit newsroom in Athens modeled on other successes across the country. She believes this is a sustainable model for local news. She now funds the publication she hopes to call The Athens Independent.

“People want … news managers to understand their community. It’s exciting, it’s daunting, but I have a clear vision of where I want to go,” Colbert said. “I think this can be the start of a new chapter.”

Enquirer reporter Cameron Knight contributed to this report.

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