Rickman’s Laughable Rationale for Layoffs at the Helena IR and MT Standard

The Helena Independent Record is finally reporting today that the paper is laying off two workers and relocating two more. Publisher Randy Rickman, who unfortunately will not be among those relocated, blamed the decision on a “continued soft economy,” which would be a more compelling argument had his paper not argued the exact opposite about the economy in the past few days.

It’s certainly an interesting claim, given that the Independent Record ran a story today indicating that the U.S. economy grew 3 per cent last year and another saying that jobless claims fell to their lowest level in four years. Don’t think the good news is limited to the national scene? Well, twelve days ago, the IR ran an editorial discussing the good news about the healthy economy in Lewis and Clark County.

That line about a “soft economy” is also contradicted by the Independent Record’s corporate owners at Lee Enterprises, who told stockholders that the future is bright for revenue in the company:

Lee chairman and CEO Mary Junck told a group of nearly 60 that the successful refinancing of its long-term debt in January will give the company “a nearly four-year runway for improving our balance sheet.”
But she said the outlook remains positive given the company’s “unmatched strength” in its daily newspaper markets and the “breathtaking” growth Lee’s digital products have seen in mobile and tablet usage.

And Ms. Junck’s future certainly is brighter than that of those laid off yesterday. The soft economy doesn’t seem to be a problem when it comes to handing out three-quarters of a million dollars to two Lee Executives, including Ms. Junck. While $750,000 might only buy 750,000 thousand shares of the company’s “Junck” stock, it would have kept dozens of workers in their jobs during a slow economic time.

I’ve been as vocal a critic of local news coverage as anyone, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that what’s going on at newspapers across the country and here in Montana is nothing more than the work of corporate raiders who are stripping these newspapers of vital resources in the pursuit of profit. Worse yet, they’re stripping the papers, many of which have decades of established reputation, of their credibility as news gathering agencies in their communities. Once these corporate raiders leave, it’s hard to imagine that much will remain.

And that’s  damn shame—for the people who love reading the news and those who have given their lives to recording it.

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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  • For some time now Lee Enterprises has been a toy of day traders. Lee used to have some big institutional investors, but those interests never forced the top management changes that were obviously needed.
    Too late now! Let the looting continue.

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