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An Idaho newspaper editor struggled to get Excel access for staff. After tweeting about it, she was fired.

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 26, 2021

By Teo Armus The Washington Post

Before she was appointed the top editor at the Idaho Statesman, Christina Lords was known for going to bat for her staff.

So when McClatchy, the Boise newspaper’s parent company, initially denied a new reporter’s request for access to Microsoft Excel, Lords took up the matter herself, she said. Faced with resistance to get a basic software program, the 34-year-old editor lamented the struggle on Twitter last week.

“Support your local newspapers, people. Get a digital subscription,” she wrote in a since-deleted tweet. “This is genuinely what we are up against.”

On Monday, McClatchy dismissed her for violating its social media policy, Lords told The Washington Post. The paper’s union publicly slammed the decision hours later, advocating not for one of its members but for the newsroom’s top manager in an unusual move.

Yet Lords, who said that she respects the company’s decision, said she would tweet the message again. “Advocating for a staff that has worked so hard over the last few years is the least I can do,” she said. “I genuinely feel like they deserve that.”

In a statement to The Post, a McClatchy spokesperson said the company does not comment on “internal personnel matters,” but added that “the full facts of the situation are not accurately represented on social media.”

In a letter to McClatchy news executives late on Monday, the Idaho News Guild protested Lords’s “abrupt and inappropriate firing” and demanded that she be reinstated as editor.

“We always knew she had our back. We always knew she was going to fight for us if we needed anything,” Michael Lycklama, a sportswriter and union steward, said in an interview with The Post. “When that’s what gets her fired, it’s a pretty chilling message to send to your employees.”

He noted that the new reporter was eventually granted access to Excel on her company laptop. But the union’s letter also pointed to a broader set of frustrations, including job openings left unfilled for months, that they say have weakened the Statesman and its sister publications during an unprecedented rush of news.

The McClatchy Co., a chain of 30 daily newspapers that includes the Miami Herald and Sacramento Bee, declared bankruptcy last summer afteryears of declining ad revenue and shrinking print readership. In July, it was purchased by the hedge fund Chatham Asset Management.

And while McClatchy has fared better than some other local newspaper chains - the company has refused to cut journalism jobs or implement furloughs for its news staffers during the pandemic - it has given up the physical offices for the Statesman and many of its other titles.

Without a newsroom address to receive and distribute personal protective equipment, Lords recently drove around Boise, hand-delivering N95 masks to the paper’s staff.

A fifth-generation Idahoan who has worked at three other papers across the state, she was first hired just over three years ago as the paper’s breaking news editor and quickly climbed up the ranks.

As top editor since early 2019, Lords turned competitors into collaborators, setting up content-sharing partnerships with newspapers around the state. Despite a shrinking staff - the newsroom of about 20 is one-third of what it was a decade ago - she put an emphasis on digital news and enterprise, overseeing a project on highway safety and setting up a statewide coronavirus tracker. Union members said she earned the admiration of the staff.

“It’s never been more obvious than in a pandemic,” said Nicole Foy, an investigative reporter at the Statesman and member of the union’s bargaining committee. “When we’re dealing with diminishing resources available to all local newsrooms and still trying to put out a paper every day, that’s the thing about Christina: She will advocate for her reporters.”

Foy, who covers Latino issues and agriculture, said that Lords encouraged her to seek out a fellowship that allowed the paper to translate stories on the coronavirus into Spanish. Another initiative boosting education coverage culminated in a town hall last month between Latino students and Idaho Gov. Brad Little, R.

Among other cost-cutting measures, McClatchy did away with subscriptions to Microsoft Office for new employees, the union said. So when the Statesman’s new state politics reporter was initially told she could not have access to the software, Lords took to Twitter.

“When that didn’t happen, it was just like ‘Dang it,’ here’s another example of how strapped we are for these resources,” she said.

She had been vocal on the platform about the challenges facing local newspapers and had never faced disciplinary issues before. Days after sending the tweet - which she concedes was perhaps her most pointed remark on the matter - McClatchy news executives told her she was fired.

But Lords said she will never give up her Statesman subscription, and when the paper embarks on a fundraising campaign later this year, she will donate, too.

Local journalism is “in a crisis level of resources, and people need to truly know what’s happening,” she said. “If we don’t make the case for ourselves, how are they going to know that they need to pay for local news?”

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