Oregon newspaper lays off staff and ends print edition after embezzler drains funds

An embezzler at Eugene Weekly has ended the newspaper's 40-year print run and forced it to lay off the entire staff, reports the Associated Press. Editor Camilla Mortensen says that days before Christmas they became aware of $100k in unpaid bills and a similar amount paid instead to the employee.

Additionally, multiple employees, including Mortensen, realized that money from their paychecks that was supposed to be going into retirement accounts was never deposited. When the paper realized it couldn't make the next payroll, it was forced to lay off all of its 10 staff members and stop its print edition, Mortensen said. The alternative weekly, founded in 1982, printed 30,000 copies each week to distribute for free in Eugene, the third-largest city in the state and home to the University of Oregon.

The employee was fired, police are investigating, and the paper's owners hired forensic accountants to unravel the embezzlement. There's a GoFundMe to help the paper recover.

Mortensen, to the AP: "To lay off a whole family's income three days before Christmas is the absolute worst. It was not on my radar that anything like this could have happened or was happening."

The paper comes out fighting on its website, with a breakdown of what happened: "Where's the Damn Paper?"

From the Weekly's founding in 1982 to surviving the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic when we never stopped printing, our hard-working journalists, artists and staff have kept the Weekly going. EW has been one of the few print newspapers that has managed to stay in business supported entirely by print advertising. Throughout everything, we have continued to print 30,000 copies each week that appear —  for free — each Thursday in our bright red boxes around town.

Despite the support — and the love — of ownership, staff and community, we found ourselves struggling financially over the last few years. The local owners — who have never taken a profit — have poured money into the paper to cover costs when money ran short. We reduced pages. We even stopped printing the horoscope. Each time we had to make changes, we heard your complaints and resolved to find a way forward. 

The most striking thing is that they thought their financial troubles were the industry-standard ones faced by local media the nation over. But that turned out to be a story, concealing the fact that their financial troubles were being caused by a crook stealing all their money.