Oregon weekly newspaper fires entire staff after former employee embezzled $90,000 and left bills unpaid

Oregon weekly newspaper fires entire staff after former employee embezzled $90,000 and left bills unpaid

An Oregon weekly newspaper has had to lay off its entire staff and stop printing after 40 years because its funds were embezzled by a former employee, according to its editor, in a devastating blow to a publication that serves as an important source of information in a community that, like many others across the country, is struggling with growing gaps in local news coverage.

The Eugene Weekly discovered mistakes in their bookkeeping around a week before Christmas, according to editor Camilla Mortensen. It was determined that a former employee who was “heavily involved” with the paper’s finances had been using the paper’s bank account to pay themselves $90,000 since at least 2022, she claimed.

She also stated that the paper became aware of at least $100,000 in unpaid payments, including those owed to the daily’s printer, that dated back several months.

Furthermore, a number of employees, including Mortensen, discovered that money from their paychecks that was meant to go into retirement accounts was never deposited.

When the daily discovered it couldn’t make the following payroll, it was forced to lay off all 10 of its employees and halt its print edition, according to Mortensen. The alternative weekly, created in 1982, printed 30,000 copies each week for free distribution in Eugene, the state’s third-largest city and home to the University of Oregon.

“It’s the absolute worst to lose a whole family’s income three days before Christmas,” Mortensen remarked, expressing her heartbreak. “It was not on my radar that anything like this could have happened or was happening.”

The accused employee had been with the tabloid for around four years and had since been sacked, according to Mortensen.

Oregon weekly newspaper fires entire staff after former employee embezzled $90,000 and left bills unpaid

According to her, the Eugene police department’s financial crimes unit is investigating, and the proprietors of the publication have hired forensic accountants to put together what happened.

Brent Walth, a journalism professor at the University of Oregon, expressed alarm over the demise of a paper that had “an outsized impact in filling the widening gaps in news coverage” in Eugene. He hailed the publication as an independent watchdog and a sympathetic voice for the community, noting the weekly’s obituaries of homeless people as an example of how it has helped put a human face on some of the city’s most serious concerns.

He also stated that the daily has made “an enormous difference” for journalism students looking for internships or starting their careers. He stated that there were feature and investigative pieces that “the community would not have had if the weekly’s commitment to ensuring that journalism students have a place to publish in a professional outlet had not been made.”

According to Tim Gleason, former dean of the University of Oregon’s journalism school, a tidal wave of closures of local news outlets across the country in recent decades has left many Americans without access to vital information about their local governments and communities, contributing to increasing polarization.

“The loss of local news across the country is profound,” he went on to say. “Instead of the healthy kind of community connections that local journalism fosters, we’re losing them and becoming communities of strangers.” As a result, we are divided into these partisan camps.”

Oregon weekly newspaper fires entire staff after former employee embezzled $90,000 and left bills unpaid

According to Northwestern University academics, an average of 2.5 newspapers will close each week in the United States by 2023. They discovered that over 200 counties had no local news outlet at all and that more than half of all counties in the United States have either no local news source or only one remaining outlet, often a weekly newspaper.

Despite being technically unemployed, Eugene Weekly employees have continued to work without pay to assist in updating the website and plan the next steps, according to Todd Cooper, the paper’s art director. He described his coworkers as devoted, innovative, and diligent.

“This paper is definitely an integral part of the community, and we really want to bring it back and bounce back bigger and better if we can,” he went on to say.

The paper has started a fundraising campaign, which includes the development of a GoFundMe website. The GoFundMe had generated more than $11,000 as of Friday afternoon, just one day after the daily reported its financial difficulties.

“We have a lot of hope that this paper is going to come back and be self-sustaining and go forward,” he added now that the former employee suspected of embezzlement has been fired.

“Hell, it’ll hopefully last another 40 years.”

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