An Oregon weekly newspaper abruptly ceased publication and laid off all its workers after an employee embezzled tens of thousands of dollars and left months of unpaid bills, its publisher said.

The Eugene Weekly newspaper announced Thursday that it would stop printing after discovering financial problems, including money not paid to employees’ retirement accounts and $70,000 in unpaid bills to the newspaper’s printer, Camilla Mortensen, editor of the newspaper, said Sunday. newspaper. .

The newspaper’s entire staff of 10 was laid off three days before Christmas, although some workers, including Ms. Mortensen, were still volunteering to publish articles online.

The Eugene Weekly, a free newspaper, was founded in 1982 and prints 30,000 copies each week, which can be found in bright red boxes in and around Eugene, one of the most populous cities in Oregon.

Recent articles described a new year walk led by guides in a state park, the efforts of a nearby unincorporated community, Blue River, to recover from a 2020 wildfireand a monument to people who had died homeless in 2023.

The leaders of The Eugene Weekly said in a letter to readers that the newspaper’s finances had been in “disaster,” but they planned to fight to keep the publication alive.

“The damage is greater than most small businesses can bear,” the letter said. “The magnitude of this moment is like nothing we have ever faced. But we believe in the mission of this newspaper and remain determined to keep EW alive.”

Melinda McLaughlin, a spokeswoman for the Eugene Police Department, said police were investigating but could not provide further details while the investigation was ongoing. The now-former employee accused of embezzlement, who was involved in the newspaper’s finances, was not publicly identified.

Mortensen, who joined the newspaper in 2007 and became editor in 2016, said charges had been brought against the person accused of embezzlement, who had worked there for at least five years.

The employee was out of the office earlier this month when questions arose about the closing of the year’s financial records and a number of problems suddenly became apparent, Mortensen said.

“Every time I find out something, it makes my stomach hurt,” he said. “And again, this is someone we worked with who came to the office every day.”

These issues were discovered as the newspaper was trying to recover from financial losses it had previously suffered during the Covid-19 pandemic, when businesses such as local restaurants and event organizers stopped buying ads, Mortensen said.

In recent years, as local newspapers rapidly closed and slashed staff, The Eugene Weekly had taken steps to rein in costs by reducing the number of pages it printed.

Nearly 2,900 newspapers have closed since 2005, according to a 2023 report from the Medill School of Journalism, Media and Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. All but about 100 of the closed newspapers were weekly. Most communities that lose a newspaper do not get a replacement.

Before the pandemic, The Eugene Weekly had done well financially, Mortensen said.

The owners, Anita Johnson, who Ms. Mortensen says is 94 years old and visited the office twice a week, and Georga Taylor, have never taken the newspaper’s profits and have always returned money to the business to pay expenses, such as worker bonuses and the new equipment. They also covered the costs of the latest print edition of the newspaper, which came out on December 21.

Mrs. Johnson and her husband, Art Johnson, and Mrs. Taylor’s husband, Fred Taylor, bought the newspaper. in the 1990s. Ms. Johnson had been a reporter for the Washington Post and Mr. Taylor, who died in 2015, was a former executive editor from the Wall Street Journal.

Ms. Mortensen said that while newspapers have focused a lot of attention on their digital product, in Eugene and the rural towns surrounding it, “print is still something that people really value.”

Eugenio’s weekly is accepting donations to help him get published again and created an online fundraiser that had raised more than $35,000 as of Sunday morning.

Ms Mortensen said people had also stopped by the office to make donations. A local bookseller who stopped by cried as she described how she had told visitors to her store what happened to the newspaper when they asked if they could get a copy.

Support has also come from unexpected places, such as retired journalists from The Register-Guard, the city’s newspaper, who volunteered to help with the editing.

Ms Mortensen said the support had given her hope the newspaper could be returned to print.

“I can think of $150,000 we need to get to be a viable newspaper again,” Ms. Mortensen said. “And I look at some of the money and say, ‘Oh my God, can we do this?’”

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