WINONA, Minn. –In its struggle to find a business model to keep afloat, the Winona Daily News has tripled its online subscriptions to $27 a month – the fourth increase 2-1/2 years. As recently as 2020 subscriptions were $9. The hike was announced in a letter to online subscribers on Daily News stationery but unsigned. The decision was made, sources said, by top-tier executives at the Lee Enterprises, the newspaper chain that owns the Daily News. The chain, which owns 77 newspapers in 26 states, is burdened heavily in debt and in financial difficulty. The record in online: subscriptions:

2020 (February): $9 a month

2020 (August): $11.49

2021 (December): $17.99

2022 (December): $19.99

2023 (July): $26.99

The chain recently added a third reporter to the Winona staff but this only after limping along with only one reporter for more than a year and skipping city and county government and schools coverage. Police news was covered by telephone from the chain’s LaCrosse office. Meanwhile, advertisers have largely abandoned the print edition. The losses have not been offset online advertising.

Earlier: Almanac: Lee Enterprises

Saga of shrinkage

Lee Enterprises acquired the Winona Daily News in 1980 from the White family and soon added a Sunday edition as an additional forum for advertising revenue. The chain also began inexorable pressure to reduce costs:

> Page size was reduced from eight columns per page to six and later five.

> The printing presses were torn out and production was moved to Lee’s LaCrosse plant.

> Printing in LaCrosse was abandoned and moved without announcement to Lee’s Madison plant.

> The sprawling Winona newspaper plant at 601 Franklin Street was sold and remaining Winona operations were moved to rental space at the old knitting mill in the Far East End industrial area.

> A Christmas Day edition was dropped to reduce costs.

> Editing of Winona content was moved quietly to LaCrosse.

> Editing of the Winona product was moved to a Lee operation in Indiana, also without announcement.

> The skeletal remaining Winona staff was moved to a modest downtown storefront.

> Without announcement, Lee abandoned having an editor, transferring those responsibilities to a regional news desk in LaCrosse.

> Local subscriber questions throughout the Lee empire were deferred to central call centers, with staff poorly trained to handle local queries and complaints.

> Tuesday and Thursday editions were dropped.

> Home delivery was discontinued with a thrice-weekly edition going to mail delivery out of Madison.

> The latest subscription increase was dated July 26 but arrived to subscribers 20 days later, a delay  symbolizing continuing confusion and chaos in Lee business operations.