Montana Politics The Media

Montanans Are Owed Clarity on the Lee Newspapers Mess: An Homage to the Montana Standard

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I’d like to thank the Montana Standard for their editorial today. Aping their style revealed just how easy it must be to write an editorial piece without actual having any reporting involved. I encourage you to read their story and leave a comment there before reading this piece.

We have learned some important things about reporting in the Lee Newspapers in recent days.

In a series of editorials, the Lee Newspapers have jumped at the chance to discuss the accomplishments of the chain’s smear campaign against Governor Bullock. They’ve boasted about reprinting the same, bad editorials in multiple papers. The papers have expressed pride in their coverage, if not accuracy or correct spelling, and can boast better than average writing for an 8th grade level student. They’ve pointed to awards given their papers by their own company, the stock price of a news chain that is lower per share than the cost of a Sunday newspaper, and staff turnover that makes the fast food industry look like a stable career choice. Also, they tout “digital revenue,” which consists largely of bilking subscribers to pay for content hidden behind an easily-bypassed firewall.

Another important thing we have learned: they just don’t want to talk about doing actual reporting about the race for Governor.

There remain questions to which Montanans deserve prompt and straightforward answers.

Is their coverage being paid for by Greg Gianforte? For the past two years, the Lee Newspapers have fallen all over themselves to cover every public relations event/scam Greg Gianforte has proposed? The Montana Standard even, for no reason, ran a picture of the presumed gubernatorial candidate out hunting. None of these stories were linked to real reporting about the policy implications of a Gianforte bid, none contained actual reporting other than what someone working for Gianforte said, and none ever followed up to see if the programs touted by Gianforte have lived up to the hype? While we don’t want to wallow in sordid details, given the dire financial situation at Lee, is it possible that Mr. Gianforte is buying coverage? Maybe with two for one coupons at McDonalds? Is he dropping by with sorely needed office supplies? Maybe he paid the power bill one month?

Do the Lee Papers Hate Asian-Americans? Is there something in the makeup of Asian-Americans that puts a burr under the saddle of Lee management? It seems ridiculous on its face, but as “some” have posited, the very lack of information explaining why Lee has no Asian-American editors in Montana fans speculation.

Management Style: Does Lee delegate too much to overseas employees who are apparently so treated so badly they don’t even bother spellchecking listicles any longer? We know the chain has moved every job it can away from local papers, so one is left to wonder if the actual editorials are now being produced overseas. Perhaps Mr. Gianforte used his connections to show the paper how to get the job done.

There are serious issues of both journalism and business acumen here. The refusal to answer direct questions in matters important to Montana readers is troubling. So is the propensity for big-ticket personnel matters to blow up in the chain’s face (See forcing out experienced political reporters to hire dudes who make listicles).

And from a journalistic standpoint, the Lee fallout would have been considerably shorter and less intense had the newspapers done actual reporting, rather than writing spurious, speculative, and unsupported attacks on the governor hiding under the pathetic guise of asking questions. This is slowly morphing from a once-important newspaper chain into a laughingstock whose “coverage” of political stories seems to consist of letting other media doing the reporting while they pontificate without fact.

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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.

8 Comments

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  • Lee Enterprises board of directors is chuck-full of TEA party Neocons. Lee’s Wisconsin paper was instrumental in crushing the Unions and saving Governor Scott Walker from the recall. We would be foolish to think Lee Enterprises will not do the same to Montana.

    • I’m certainly no fan of Lee Enterprises, or of Wisconsin Gov Scott Walker, but I’m not sure it’s correct to claim that “Lee’s Wisconsin paper was instrumental in crushing the Unions and saving Governor Scott Walker from the recall.”

      For example, the largest Wisconsin newspaper that Lee owns is the “Wisconsin State Journal,” which really isn’t a ‘state journal’ by any stretch of the imagination, as it has virtually no readership outside the Madison (where it’s based) and Dane County area. Walker got only 30% of the Dane County vote, so again just not sure how ‘instrumental’ the local Lee paper was there.

      There are other examples too. Lee owns the La Crosse paper, but Walker lost La Crosse County too. Lee owns the Portage paper, but Walker lost Portage County too.

      Anyway, as a native of Wisconsin – and as someone who still spends time there – in my opinion the major reason Walker survived the Recall election was that it was a repeat of the Walker-Tom Barrett election of 2010…and Barrett wasn’t that appealing of a candidate in 2010, must less as a do-over in 2012.

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