Columnist Gordon Morse says he was let go by the Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press after VPM News published a story detailing payments he received from Dominion Energy.

In a phone interview last month, Morse claimed he was let go after defying orders from the papers’ opinion editor, Brian Colligan, to not speak to VPM about the payments, which totalled over $60,000 per year from 2017 to 2020.

VPM published a story about the payments on Sept. 29; Morse’s last column for the paper appeared Sept. 25.

“On balance, I'd rather explain to people what I do, as opposed to just sort of letting them speculate,” Morse said. “They didn't want me to talk about it.”

Morse said he bore no ill will toward the papers and praised Colligan for a “heroic” effort to keep the Opinions section functional in the face of severe cutbacks and layoffs. Neither Colligan nor the papers’ editor in chief, Kris Worrell, responded to several emails seeking comment.

Morse wrote regular, signed columns for the papers on and off for almost two decades alongside a biography that noted he’d previously worked for Dominion Energy, PepsiCo and other corporate groups. In addition to his columns, Morse also wrote some of the editorial boards’ unsigned editorials. 

Worrell previously told VPM that Morse wrote “some” of at least seven editorials published last year that defended or lauded Dominion Energy, one the most influential political influencers in Richmond.

The Virginia Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists issued a statement on Oct. 4 expressing “deep concerns” over the unsigned editorials, which they viewed as a “conflict of interest and a breach of journalistic ethics” given Morse was paid by Dominion during the same period. (VPM News Director Elliott Robinson is on the board of the group but abstained from any involvement in the statement).

Morse said he had not collected payments for his work for the newspapers in recent years, a detail first revealed by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The onetime speechwriter for former Gov. Gerald Baliles and PepsiCo said he was financially secure without the income, and viewed his editorial contributions as a way to help the struggling papers.

“It was just simply in the back of my head, ‘Well, maybe it's just, if I don't need the money, then maybe they'll find better places to spend it,’” Morse said. “It wasn't making a statement or anything.”

Morse has had an ongoing, part-time speechwriting contract with Dominion since 2006, a spokesperson for the company told VPM last year. The 73-year-old Morse said he also holds more informal arrangements with other executives and companies as part of his work as a freelance speechwriter.

Dominion said Morse mostly handled occasional speech planning for executives at philanthropic events. Records submitted by the company as part of a rate review show it paid Morse more than $260,000 between 2017 and 2020 for the work.