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The Media

Just How Stupid Does Randy Rickman Think We Are?

It seems that Randy Rickman, the publisher of the Independent Record, has more explaining to do, this time attempting to justify his decision to offer yet another “fresh start” at the Independent Record.

Rickman first wants us to believe that the Independent Record’s new managing editor was chosen for her qualifications for the job:

Our first priority was to find a new editor to lead our newsroom. We conducted a national search and found a well-qualified editor, Holly Michels, who will start in a couple weeks.

Call me a cynic if you will, but I find it somewhat difficult to believe, given the huge number of jobs lost in the newspaper business recently, that the most qualified person to become the managing editor of the newspaper in the state capital was someone who has only worked as a reporter for 2 years. I would hazard a guess that stronger candidates, given appropriate pay and notification about the job, might have emerged.

Once again, I don’t know Ms. Michels and I hope she turns out to be an excellent managing editor, but her resume doesn’t compare too favorably to the roster of editors who have managed the Independent Record.  It’s simply laughable to think that she was the most qualified or experienced candidate in a “national search.”

Next, Rickman offered an absurd replacement for the process of newspaper endorsements:

This week, each candidate received, or will receive, a letter that asks them to tell voters, in their own words, why they should vote for him/her. The length of the column is 400 words or less and can not include any mention of their opponent.

What he’s describing is the extension of the increasingly vapid coverage of politics. Instead of having a community board or editors carefully measure the qualifications each person has for the office she’s seeking, the Independent Record plans to replace that vetting process with 400 words of empty promises and half-truths.

In a time of diminished and often incomplete coverage of our political candidates, exchanging critical examination of candidates by a qualified community board for a set of self-congratulatory epistles penned the candidates’ staffs is an epically short-sighted abrogation of the newspaper’s responsibility.

It will eliminate one last hurdle between the epically stupid and public office.

Does Mr. Rickman really believe that anyone will learn anything of value from these pieces?

Fundamentally, it seems that Mr. Rickman might start to consider the possibility that he’s the problem. Periodically turning the paper over to his political agenda, driving out an editor who was really enhancing its hard news focus, cutting the reporting staff to the bone and then berating the staff with language not fit for a newspaper or this blog might feel like leadership and the opportunity for fresh leadership to Mr. Rickman, but from the outside, it looks like someone killing a local institution.

Want a fresh start? How about taking a look at the person who has been in charge of the IR while all this turmoil has happened? Maybe there is another job he is “well qualified” for, because he sure as hell isn’t qualified to be a newspaper publisher.

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.

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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  • Rickman is a joke. Since he has come to town, the IR has become an unreadable mess. Why can’t he go run some Penny Saver again somewhere else?

  • Faulting Mr. Rickman for Lee’s restructuring likely falls on deaf ears at the IR, Don. My bet is that Ms. Michels took the job at a salary far below that of other candidates as Lee firms its bottom line.

    Paywalls are skewing readership for the eight Lee online publications that I read every day: comment numbers are fewer and fewer. Readers of the online Rapid City Journal are furious over its new paywall. Expect an option to purchase subscriptions for all online content corporate-wide.

    Disclosure: I didn’t buy at $1.00 but now hold some stock at $1.49 and even as it retreats, I like Lee’s future.

  • You know what they could have done? Keep the community board and just hire someone to replace Harrington, which apparently didn’t take very long. Then they could have made endorsements, like the community expects their newspaper to do.

    Instead, Rickman is ducking out on one of the most basic responsibilities of the 4th estate. Because Rickman has never been a member of the 4th estate.

    He’s spent his entire career outside the newsroom, which is probably why he thinks the IR should either be a platform for his far-right agenda, or not do politics at all. Either way, absolutely no one in Helena believes the IR is a credible source of information on state politics. And Randy Rickman is the reason why.

  • I doubt that it was intended to make sense of any kind. Among the changes in the past several months has been the billing. Advertising accounts are now sent to Ohio which has the effect, if not the intent, of making sure no one working locally knows whether the local paper is profitable or not. Much of the news is being written from a desk in Butte. The lead Sunday article in the business section was a hamburger joint in Butte. The local grocery stores are sensing this coming. Safeway is trying to switch to an online coupon arrangement to get shoppers used to the idea of checking out specials online. I would be willing to bet that the IR will be less than a daily within a matter of a few months. These people will gut it, eat the profit, and try to sell it to the community before they move.

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