The Independent Record Making the Most of Limited Resources

It’s not just the fact that Lee Enterprises is struggling to meet its debt obligations. The people who run local newspapers make decisions, too.

John Doran, editor of the Independent Record, offered a fascinating look at the priorities of the local daily newspaper, combining some sleight of hand accounting with a breathless recounting of all the new innovations that the IR has developed in the past year.

First, the finances. Doran writes:

While here at the Independent Record we had our own share of painful cutbacks — we lost five people and eliminated our TV Weekly guide — for the most part our business has been stable, mirroring that of the Helena economy. . .

So, to simply look at the tumbling stock price for our parent company Lee Enterprises (what stocks besides McDonald’s and Wal-Mart haven’t tanked?), or to consider the bankruptcy reorganization of media pillar Tribune Co., doesn’t entirely paint the portrait of every single paper nationwide.

I may be wrong, but I’d say most stocks haven’t lost value in quite the same way as Lee Enterprises. It’s been a rough year for the stock market, but I can’t buy most stocks for less than the cost of a newspaper.

So what did the IR do with the savings reaped from the elimination of five staff positions? They began producing incredibly amateurish videos, and not inexpensively, as Doran notes:

It’s also a new way to help offset the significant investment our paper made last year in videography equipment and production computers and software. It’s a giant step forward from the two-minute online news video we’ve come to expect and deliver.

Does a ‘significant investment’ in videography equipment make sense when the newspaper is cutting staffing? Do poorly produced and infrequently completed videos contribute to news gathering or a better informed public?

It appears not.  Over the weekend, two national stories with major implications for Montana broke and were reported in the Associated Press. Did the Independent Record even re-word and develop the initial reporting from the wire? Ask a reporter to contact one of our representatives in Washington for comment? Send out a video team to cover those stories?

None of the above. The innovation most of us would like to see is some reporting and investment in what newspapers are supposed to provide.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a 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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  • Is the IR reading blogs? Are they seeing criticism from bloggers like you, Pogie, saying that these videos are a silly embarrassment?

    If you are reading, here is a suggestion!

    KTVH, the local television station, is in a similar position to you. They are, too, in a small market and the early career journalists that work there seem to struggle to meet role as the fourth estate. If you look at their website, they are trying to do what the IR is trying to do: trying to build a presence in the media they aren’t prepared to work in.

    Instead of that bloody mess? Why don’t you two work together?

    Create one website., if you will. IR provides print (and refocuses on print instead of the videos… you seriously spent money on professional video equipment?). KTVH provides video.

    I know what you are going to say… each of you is owned by corporate this or that and it is impossible. But these are the efforts small markets are going to need to make to survive.

  • The corporate controlled MSM has been backsliding for some time. The initial blow of the 24/7 news cycle offered up by cable TV has morphed through the advent of blogs and a continuing sophistication of the Internet to eclipse the print media.
    This is similar to sewing machines displacing seamstresses. The hand held needle and tread are still with us but are not a dominate forcing in stitching.
    One might argue that when the newspaper industry embraced profits over objective report they initiated their demise.

  • I don’t watch the IR videos. And guess what. I bet most others don’t either. First, people primarily check the news at work, and NO ONE wants to be caught dead watching online videos at work. If the IR had done the slightest amount of research into how, when, and where people get their online news, they wouldn’t have gone with these either. People who check the news at home don’t have time to wait for the videos to load–especially given their low news value.

  • Lee’s executives are clueless. Remember, one of their first cost-saving moves was to eliminate the single reporter they had in Washington D.C. who provided coverage for all their papers in Montana, plus Wyoming. Now, instead of coverage, the only thing you get to read about Baucus, Tester and Rehberg and the Wyoming delegation is what their press offices put out as press releases. Lee deserves to go bankrupt!

  • I (mostly) agree with your assessment Pogie, and those of previous comments. It would seem that the video aspect of the web site is an attempted “gimmick” that other newspapers’ may be trying and that the IR picked up on. I just don’t see them working and planning as an island, especially since the demise of paper news was forecast late last century with the proliferation of the internet. The ‘home office’ has undoubtedly been studying alternatives for a while, no?

    One thing that bothers me is that they appear to blame the demise strickly on the internet and the economy when I know many, many people in Helena, East Helena and the Helena valley that quit buying and reading it because of liberal bias. Maybe it’s just who I hang with huh?

  • I can’t say I’ve noticed much liberal bias. Maybe I hang in a different crowd. 🙂

    The biggest problem that I see is what Liesa and Bert note. Too much triviality, not enough news coverage. When the paper is just a venue for dueling press releases from politicians and their parties on critical issues, the public sure isn’t going to learn much.

  • I agree on the videos – frankly, even if they are well done by a company whose main focus is video (here I´m thinking of the BBC), if its online I prefer to read it. It has so many advantages: videos are dandy for YouTube, but for getting actual information they are far inferior. They are noisy, which means you can´t watch them at work, school, in a library or any number of places you could be disturbing others; they are generally streamed, which means on a slow internet connection you have to wait a long time for your video, and you can´t skim or watch just the bits most important to you unless you let the entire thing load, which means the editor of the film sets the pace you get your news, not you reading. Lastly, reading silently to oneself is almost always faster than listening to somone read out loud. And while some emotional impact or complex information is best represented visually (by pictures or maps), adding these images to text is usually more effective and cheaper than creating video, particularly if text is your specialty.

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