Ashley Spinks Dugan believes in good journalism and covering the town she loves. She’ll keep at it, regardless of whether she has an actual newspaper to work for.
Spinks Dugan served as the managing editor for the Floyd Press, the small-town weekly newspaper that covers everything in Floyd County, Virginia, population 15,795. In reality, she was more than just an editor. She was the editorial staff – photographer, reporter, layout designer and editor – for the 16-20 page paper.
The Daily Yonder featured her in a story in August about the impact Covid was having on reporters at rural newspapers.
After that story ran, Spinks was interviewed by WVTF, a Roanoke public radio station. The report by Mallory Noo-Payne was about corporations, like the Floyd Press’s owner Lee Enterprises, buying up local papers and slashing budgets and staff. Spinks talked about some of her frustrations with budget cuts.
Lee Enterprises took notice. The company fired her, just three days before her wedding, for doing the interview with the NPR-affiliated station.
“An update: I got fired today for doing this interview,” Spinks Dugan wrote on Twitter October 13.
Spinks Dugan said she was fired on a conference call. Her employer made reference to the WVTF story. She was immediately locked out of her email and network, she tweeted.
Although she had just lost her job, Spinks Dugan’s concern was for the community her newspaper served. “The paper is not finished, don’t know how it will be,” she tweeted. “I feel deep sadness for my community, which will no longer see the coverage it deserves.”
Losing her job didn’t change her mind about her decision to speak publicly about the difficulties of working with a short budget and no staff. “I don’t regret speaking to WVTF for one second, I’d do it again.”
The story even drew national attention with a piece in the Washington Post. Floyd Mayor Will Griffin told the Washington Post that he worries about what will happen to the newspaper – and to his community.
“If we don’t have that local source of true and reliable news produced by someone with boots on the ground in our community… the level of misinformation is just going to skyrocket,” he told the Washington Post.
In her October 13 tweet, Spinks Dugan said she wanted to keep living in the New River Valley and writing about the surrounding area. She has taken steps in that direction. She’s started the Floyd Forum, an email newsletter for her community. Spinks Dugan said in her tweets that she wants it to go out multiple times a week.
“Some news: Y’all know I can’t resist a local government meeting, and I’ll be continuing to attend Floyd County’s county and town meetings starting next week. I’ll be offering coverage via a new Substack,” she tweeted on October 22. “I’m hopeful that over time this site will expand to offer regional reporting, not just Floyd-centric stories, and that I can write about more than public meetings. I see this as a first step, and it’s not intended to compete with any local or regional outlets.”
Substack is an online publishing platform that supports subscription newsletters.
Spinks Dugan declined an interview with the Daily Yonder, saying she needed a break from the attention to focus on her new project. She even turned down an interview from CNN, she said. But according to her Twitter feed, she’s still reporting on the community she loves; reviewing county vote totals from 2016 and interviewing early voters; and missing the season premiere of “This Is Us” to cover a county Board of Supervisors meeting.
“There are ups- and downsides to being publicly fired and trying to transition into a legitimate freelance reporting career, I won’t lie to you,” she tweeted Thursday. “But one undeniable perk is the freedom to savor a morning cup of coffee and start my workday at 10 a.m. if I want to.”