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The State of the Fourth Estate

(Big welcome to Pete Talbot, who is writing his first post here.–Pogie)

In the wake of “fat shaming” blog posts and criticism of the Montana media, two items caught my eye.

The first was a Facebook comment from Missoulian reporter Keila Szpaller on her recent story about Mayor Engen and bariatric surgery being added to the city’s health plan: “I do welcome the discussions about our priorities, especially as newsrooms continue to shrink,” she wrote.

The second was from a laid off journalist friend: “Many – if not most – journalists at Lee Enterprises’ 46 daily newspapers haven’t received raises since 2008. The company’s top executives, however, have been rewarded many times with big bonuses in recent years. A just-released document discloses these 2014 bonuses: CEO Mary Junck – $1,150,000, CFO Carl Schmidt – $533,000, COO Kevin Mowbray – $128,125.  (The Missoulian and four other Montana newspapers are in the Lee Enterprises chain.)

About the first item, despite what you may think about the news story, I appreciated that the reporter took the time to respond at all to some pretty scathing criticism, especially on a Facebook post. Most telling, of course, was the line, “ … as newsrooms continue to shrink.” In other words, reporters, and editors, are being asked to do more with less. Veteran reporters are leaving for greener pastures and are being replaced by lower-paid cubs, if they are replaced at all.

The second item is pretty self-explanatory. One should keep in mind that although the news media are called “The Fourth Estate,” they are still a business, just like a company that makes widgets. They have a bottom line and are responsible to their stockholders. But big bonuses to top management while their employees and product suffer seem self-defeating.  Those bonuses could go a long way to beefing up staff, and improving both print and online publications.

I’ve been critical of my local paper and the print media in general, Lord knows. In the future, I’ll try not to pile on the reporters and editors.  Being a journalist is a job and in a tight market, when you have a family to feed, one isn’t about to buck the system.  They are doing their best to practice their craft under very trying conditions.

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

Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.


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  • Really fair points, Pete. I’ve struggled with the tension between my frustration about some of the level of coverage and my knowledge that Lee specifically and newspapers in general are stripping their newsrooms to the bare minimum.

  • so, Pete, are you saying the pressures of a downsized newsroom justifies unethical reporting? no time for ethics anymore? any single source, no matter how questionable, can help this rag generate front page news? shouldn’t it ultimately be the editors responsibility to maintain standards? and when those standards are so obviously being degraded, wouldn’t a change in the editorial leadership be a good idea?

    anyways, glad you found a new home, Pete. I’ve cleaned up the contributor pages at 4&20 to reflect who actually contributes content to the pariah blog.

    • Not saying that at all. It’s just that I’m going to cut them more slack than in the past as they are working under trying conditions. I certainly don’t see the higher ups rocking the boat by changing editorial leadership. And, having just returned from some big cities on the West Coast, our little hometown paper isn’t looking too bad. Portland’s Oregonian and the Seattle Times are putting out skimpier papers than the Missoulian. It’s tough times for the print media.

      Also, I wish 4&20 the best of luck. Keep doing what you’re doing. I was never much of writer on subjects like Netanyaju, Ukraine, the CIA, etc. ID seems like a better fit.

  • Oh sweet JESUS! My friends in Billings have found their voice AND their nuts! For you see, folks, they live here in Montana too! So, when inbreds like Dandy Randy “pee cup” Pinheadocci calls for drug testing folks applying for assistance, SOME one is gonna CALL this christofascist inbred OUT on his nonsense! And my old favorite newspaper the Billings Gazoo did so superbly! I used to love the Gazoo when it was the best newspaper in the state, bar none. The GF Spitoon only THOUHGT it was the best newspaper. The Gazoo WAS the best until they fired all their good people.

    In any event, please read this. Dandy Randy Pee Cup Pinheadocci NEEDS to be taken down a notch or two, and the Gazoo did so brilliantly!

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