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Lee Enterprises Practices Destructive Capitalism on the Independent Record

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KXLH is reporting that the Independent Record has laid off yet another round of workers:

The Helena Independent Record has laid off a handful of employees.

Staff members have confirmed that some positions have been entirely eliminated while others are being offered relocation packages.

But don’t worry, fans of American corporations and corporate malfeasance. The woman whose incredibly bad decisions have gutted the IR’s parent company Lee Enterprises, won’t be suffering, as the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported today:

Getting Lee Enterprises through bankruptcy earned a $500,000 bonus for Lee Enterprises CEO Mary Junck, according to a new company filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The compensation committee of Lee’s board of directors awarded the bonus to Junck, along with a $250,000 bonus to chief financial officer Carl Schmidt.

That’s an impressive display of American capitalism right there. Junck drove the formerly healthy company into bankruptcy through her mismanagement before getting a cool half million dollars for “getting” the company through her failure.

I can’t even imagine what another round of cuts will look like at the Independent Record, which is becoming a shell of a newspaper, despite making a profit on its own. It’s pretty tough to put out a quality product when you don’t have enough staff to do the job and now it appears they IR will have even fewer hands on deck.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a 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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  • Bruce Saylor, sports editor in Butte and a 36-year Lee veteran, was also laid off a few years short of his retirement today.

    • News like that is just so infuriating. Someone does a good job for a company most of his life and is treated like that in order to line the pockets of some incompetent CEO.

      • Not the first time that Lee's beancounters have done that to its seasoned newsroom pros. I'm sure that the ultimate goal of Junck rule is staffing the newsroom not with experienced reporters and editors, not with unpaid interns, but with high school kids whose parents pay Lee for the privilege of letting their children play at putting out a newspaper.

        Call it a case of reverse cleanup: throw out the valuables before throwing out the junk.

    • Far be it from me to defend Lee, and I agree with most everything in this post and comments, but it should be noted that the print media are in rapid decline. It's not just bad management practices but a loss of subscribers and advertisers in this new information age. I know that neither of my kids get a daily newspaper — all their info comes from the Internet.

      Will laying off valued staff accelerate this downward spiral? Without a doubt. But it's tough times for even the most enlightened of newspaper companies. I worry about where we'll be getting our objective news stories in the future.

      • I think that's certainly true, but a lot of this has to do with mismanagement. The Lee papers were a profitable entity until Ms. Junck and her board decided to chase a bigger slice of the pie and drove the company into rapid decline, culminating in bankruptcy.

        From what I have been told, our local papers are profitable on their own. In fact, they're doing reasonably well, given all of the pressures you describe.

        They'd also have a much better case for the critical need to lay off workers had they not just given $750,000 to two top executives who are already highly compensated for their efforts.

        I know I have been critical of the local papers, but it's depressing to watch a corporate entity kill them off while they try to squeeze out another nickel or half million for themselves.

        • Again, I'm not justifying the actions of Lee management any more than I'd justify the actions of Goldman Sachs or Enron. It's just that we often hold newspapers to a higher standard than other businesses. This is a mistake. Naturally, we expect certain ethics from reporters and editors, but the the newspaper business is, in reality, no different than any other industry: health care, manufacturing, banking …

          Having the only daily newspaper in a mid-sized city used to be a license to print money; very profitable, indeed. That is no longer the case. The industry has lacked foresight, rewarded management for bad decisions and reduced its content, just like many other businesses. It's now reaping what it has sown. Maybe a Bain Capital will swoop in, lay off more workers, close or sell off the less profitable assets — who knows?

          Gannett, McClatchy, Knight-Ridder — they're all guilty, to different degrees, of fostering the same sort of malfeasance. It's a screwy system but there you have it.

          • P.S. I did want to give kudos to someone in Lee for sending Mike Dennison to DC to cover the Scotus hearing on health care. This surprised me but Mike has done an excellent job covering health care issues in Montana and nationally, so this was a good move on Lee's part.

          • Come on, Pete. We all know you are a corporate apologist. 🙂

            In my ideal world, someone who lives in and cares about Missoula, Butte, and Helena would buy those papers from Lee and run them the way they used to be run. I suspect they'd make a profit even.

            It's got to be better than what we're seeing now.

            • Indeed. But some folks I know at the Missoula Independent say it's a tough row to hoe. Their demographics show readership down in the age 40-and-under group. Pretty soon, we boomers won't be around, and subscribing to newspapers. This does not trend well and as a newspaper junkie, it troubles me.

              • The other problem, of course, is when your cutbacks make your product something people can live without.

                You're certainly not going to attract new readers without compelling and timely news.

  • Incredibly disappointing. Now, more than ever, Montana news strong “mainstream” news outlets, but the opposite is happening. Best of luck to those that remain employed at the IR and those that are now looking for jobs. Knew things were bad when Duran left…

  • When I was in J-school, and that was some time ago, we were taught that the business objective was a profit with honor — and that without profit, there could be no honor because a paper couldn't afford to cover the news well. That still makes sense, and still should be the objective of ownership.

    Pete's right that times have changed, and that the demographics for print newspapers become less favorable every day. But that doesn't mean that newspapers no longer can run in the black. The biggest threat newspapers face is changing demographics in the readership, it's the greed and incompetence of the blackguards in the executive suite who push the operation into the red.

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