An Epically Short-Sighted Move at Lee Enterprises

The Independent Record is confirming what has been rumored around town for the past 20 hours or so, that Lee Enterprises has decided to consolidate the editorial staffs of the Montana Standard and Helena Independent Record, placing both papers under Standard editor Gerry O’Brien.

That means that one of the state’s oldest newspapers, and the one serving the state capital, will no longer have a local editor. The news release from Lee papers offered a typical example of corporate bureaucrat-speak to explain the move:

Rickman noted that combining management positions between the two companies was a way to “cut costs while still producing the same strong results for our customers.”

In more direct terms, we’re not making enough money for our shareholders and reporting the news isn’t really that important to us after all.

I’ve been as critical of the Independent Record as anyone—at least online—but this latest decision underscores the fact that many of the problems the IR and other newspapers are facing is driven by corporate greed and mismanagement. When there aren’t enough reporters to cover the news or editors to manage them or even copyeditors to review the text of stories, all the news—and  even all the important news—simply won’t get covered.

You don’t fix a failing product by cutting back on essential services. You don’t fix a newspaper by making its staff feel that each of them could be the next one unceremoniously shown the door.

That a newspaper which practically enjoys monopolistic control over the news in a town can’t squeeze out enough profit to satisfy its corporate owners says much more about the publisher than it does about the editor—and this latest move only confirms that.

Under Doran’s leadership, the IR offered the best example of investigative, critical journalism that I can remember from the IR in the long overdue stories about St. Peter’s Hospital. He trusted his reporter to follow a complex, costly story and that trust led to a better informed community.

There is already a great deal of speculation about what prompted Rickman’s move, but one thing is quite clear: the staff at the Independent Record, the legacy of the newspaper, and the community as a whole simply deserve better than what Randy Rickman and Lee Enterprises have given us.

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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