Newspapers Aren’t Dying. Honest. Just Ask the Missoulian

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I have read some ridiculous editorials in the Missoulian before, but today’s entry is epic in its breathtaking lack of subtlety and awareness. What topic demands the attention of the editor of the “largest paper in western Montana,” you ask? Why, the fiscal health of “western Montana’s largest paper”, of course. As measured by “western Montana’s largest paper.”

But so far, as former newspaperman Mark Twain once said, rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Mark Twain did eventually die, but he never became this tedious. Or clichéd.

Consequently, we continue to see reports of newspapers laying off workers, filing for bankruptcy, ceasing their print editions. While the recession is causing similar changes in other industries, the newspaper industry’s struggles are especially obvious, in part because it does such a thorough job covering them for readers.

Yes, like hiding the stories on 6B or the editorial page when it is a layoff at your own chain, but making front page news when it is a rival’s chain, you mean? Like not writing a story about the poor decision making of the corporate parent that has led to the layoffs, you mean?

Advertising accounts for about 75 percent of revenue for our parent company, Lee Enterprises, which is based in Davenport, Iowa, and owns 49 newspapers across the country, including the Ravalli Republic, Helena Independent Record, Billings Gazette and Montana Standard in Butte.

Does anyone happen to want to buy a newspaper? No, really. The prices have never been lower.

Like other newspapers throughout the U.S., Montana’s papers have had to make painful cutbacks. In May, Lee’s Montana newspapers closed our D.C. bureau. A few months later, the Missoulian laid off seven employees. This past week, we had to lay off six more.

Translation: Hey, so we’re not really properly staffed to cover the news, but we’d like to.

Did you know that, according to online audience analyzer Quantcast, the Missoulian is ranked in the top 10,000 Web sites in the U.S. for its reach? Last time we looked, we ranked 8,705th and had a larger online reach than any other local media in western Montana. In fact, our print edition has a larger reach than any other local media in western Montana as well.

I suspect you are the number one source in all of Missoula county, too. Far be it from me to engage in snark, but shouldn’t the paper in the largest city in western Montana have its largest readership?  Funny. I just looked, and you’re now 8,714th. Looks like I scooped you! 🙂

According to Alexa, you are the 46,346th most visited site on the Internet, and load more slowly than 73% of sites. Did you know that?

In general, the Missoulian’s recent circulation trends mirror the findings of a recent report on Lee Enterprises’ readership. That report, released in October, found that Lee newspapers and online sites were reaching more young adults – an increase from 54 percent in 2007 to 64 percent in 2008.

What does this statistic mean? That Lee Newspapers are reaching 64 per cent of young people in the world? If you’re going to use your company’s statistics (in the midst of an epic stock price collapse), you should at least make sure that they make sense.

But while online sites allow newspapers like the Missoulian to offer readers different kinds of content – such as breaking news updates, photo slideshows, audio recordings and video – by far the biggest factor in our audience increase is the continuing high quality of our news coverage.

But, wait. You just told me that you have twice in the past year reduced the quality of your coverage, perhaps in small part to pay for amateurish video. And why doesn’t your editorial actually include any statistics to support this claim?

I don’t think the Missoulian is dying, though someone might want to hold up a mirror in front of its parent company, just in case. Wasting valuable editorial space on self-promoting hokum while the nation is facing a recession, the Legislature is in session, and Montana soldiers are fighting and dying in two wars could explain why the prognosis isn’t terribly promising, though.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is an eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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