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Montana Politics The Media

I’ve Seen the Future of Political Coverage in Montana, and the Future Isn’t Bright

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Remember back in May when Lee Enterprises sheepishly tried to assure readers that their Montana papers would still cover Montana politics after the chain unceremoniously pushed its senior reporters out the door? And some wags, both online in print, mocked the chain’s contention that it could still cover politics and government in Montana without doing boring things like attending meetings?

Well, Lee has posted the want ads for the reporters who will replace Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson, and if the job descriptions are to be believed, it’s going to be worse than we thought.

I can only hope that the first job description wasn’t written by someone with a role either writing or editing at a newspaper. I appreciate someone trying, but this feels like someone who is spending a little too much time on that first, unpublished novel at the office : “This reporter needs to have a storytelling style that matches the unique nature of Montana, while having a narrative voice that’s as smooth as Neversweat Bourbon.” I mean, I enjoy Neversweat as much as the next person, but come on.

Worse is the job description’s focus on so-called “digital” journalism. The job description reads “Candidates must be digitally savvy enough to build an audience that spans the state. Mastery of digital tools will help capture the different angles of a story, including audio, video, still photography and social media in addition to news writing.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand the Lee fascination with digital tools. You can pay a relatively low-paid employee to manage to online presence, but the thing that drives readership of newspapers is news coverage. Remember the IR’s bizarre experiment with narrating news stories with shaky video? Does anyone go to a Montana newspaper for lazy, half-baked slideshows? And can anyone explain these bizarre videos the Missoulian is clearly forcing its reporters to produce?

On average, they seem to generate about 100 hits on YouTube, and I’ve seen more enthusiasm in video footage from captives in North Korean prison camps. And on a more pedantic note, if you’re going to call it the 4:06, shouldn’t it, you know, be 4:06 long?

The second job description(for a reporter with a data/investigative focus, no less) is even worse. In addition to noting that Helena is only a preferred location for the reporter, the want ad suggests that these crazy kids these days just won’t read actual policy stories.

However, the team also will recognize that quarter-turn coverage of officials mired in government process is not the best use of resources and may not hold the attention span of a digital audience.

In other words, who needs weeks of in-depth coverage about the Affordable Care Act’s impact on Montana or stories about the history of Montana politics when you can do some person on the street reaction stories to Supreme Court decisions that a bad local TV newscast would be embarrassed to run? How about stock photo slideshows with sensitive captions like “A black man with hands outside the bars of a prison cell”? That’s going to seize the “digital audience” right by its hipster beanies and bring them back to newspapers, isn’t it?

Critics of the new regime after Johnson and Dennsion were pushed aside were wrong, it seems. The future of reporting on state government and politics is going to be even worse than we feared.

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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  • I know! They can hang over the bridge over the Clark Fork River and discuss the merits of adding another fake surfing wave to the existing ones already installed in the river!

    Oh oh! How about watching the osprey feeding their babies! Oh, I forgot, the babies died. So sorry. 🙁

    Well, there is always the fact that no one showed up to listen to the City Council discuss the budget last week and the one guy who always votes no on everything voted no on everything. Again.

    How’s that!!

    News in Missoula for a couple of days………

      • Thanks, but I think they’re more interested in posts that will increase their Facebook shares, not educate the state’s citizens. Things like the Missoulian’s Leo DiCaprio post today. Pretty much fluff, but boy, tons of Facebook comments and shares and likes and all that jazz. So that’s advertising money for them, I bet. You can see what future articles will be like.

        I’d imagine recent college grads that don’t know much about the world or don’t follow the news closely would be their ideal candidates. It’s a shame, too – it was mentioned when Dennison and Johnson left that Lee executives didn’t care about content, only profits. That means they could do anything, but they choose to do this.

        Again, it must be the most profitable for them, and to me, the social media stats make a good case for that.

    • Dude! You, like, totally slammed this dude to the ground, dude! Your post that nobody read was up, like, several days before this dude’s, dude! High five, bro!

      • Thanks, Dan. I agree…I’m not sure what’s going on. I think it’s because Don has muted me on Twitter, but that’s just my opinion. I don’t know how you could miss a post in the 24-hour short twitter feed that #mtpol has, unless you’re not looking or muting people.

        That brings up another problem in Montana, and that’s selectivity. Many media sources are quite selective in what they’ll recognize or report on. You can see this in blog rolls and in what’s mentioned and not.

        For instance, neither this site nor MT Cowgirl will ever mention Big Sky Words or 4&20. Why? Well, you don’t want to bring attention to the competition, or sites that could be better than you, possibly showing you up. So it’s best to just ignore them, and if you can block out voices you don’t like or that don’t agree with you too, all the better.

        Far from making this state better and keeping it fully informed, this just accentuates and furthers our problems.

        • I don’t think you’ve captured precisely why I don’t often mention your site or 4and20 blackbirds, but do keep speculating.

          A quick look at the archives here would show a huge number of links to 4and20 over the decade I have been writing here, too.

        • I’m not sure your blog counts as “competition”… Also, why are you always begging other bloggers for attention/credit? Bc you know their readership is much larger.

          • Free marketing. They hate it, but you’ll notice how quickly they give out blog roll links to new blogs, even if they only manage one post and have to sit there for years afterward, drawing your attention.

            Some voices we approve of, some we don’t. I’m sure we could list a myriad of reasons why, or deny it altogether, but what would be the point?

            • I’ve always found some people’s obsession with blogrolls hard to understand. I just don’t give it much thought. That being said, I really feel you need to add a link to my site on your page.

              • I’m not sure it would accomplish anything; you obviously didn’t notice when I had one on the side of the 2014 Montana Election Blog for the better part of a year.

                You’re selective, Don, and choose some sources for information while ignoring others. You view this as fine, for you don’t really care if people get a full look at a story or both sides. You just want your side to be known, or whatever bit of that you want to reveal.

                Ignoring news and viewpoints you don’t like and pretending they don’t exist might allow you and other Montana blogs to live in a safe bubble, a veritable la-la-land of make believe, but I’m not sure if that ultimately leads to the goals you seek to accomplish.

                • But, seriously. You’re over hear complaining at my site because I don’t link to yours–and you don’t link to any other sites? That seems kind of rude.

                  The reason I don’t spend a great deal of time on your site is that I just don’t find it incredibly useful. I’ve been trying to be polite and avoid saying that, but there it is. In a world of sources of information, we can only visit so many. Except on rare occasions, your site just doesn’t make that cut for me. I’m sorry if that offends you, but I think it makes some sense.

                • I’m complaining about your hypocrisy, Don. You bemoan the lack of news sources now that Johnson and Dennison are gone, but then you won’t even acknowledge that there are other sources out there reporting on news. When those sources mention this, you say that it’s alright for you to do this, because the quality of the source is poor.

                  I just think you’re a hypocrite, because you’ve repeatedly bashed the newspaper sources because of their ‘poor’ reporting, but link to them nonetheless.

                • Greg, I got myself banned at another website because I was being “argumentative” concerning the hypocrisy of those attacking you Ad Hominem without ever attempting to refute some of your good ideas or observations. (Apparently I spooked the brave Sir Norma.) I had a hope a wouldn’t regret that. Notice the past tense.

                  I you can wrap your head around the idea that a link, either on sidebar or in post, is *not* an endorsement, then the rather silly claim of hypocrisy simply and quietly disappears. Pogie has always been forward about explaining precisely what is poor about reporting and what is of value. to himself and his thesis. I don’t remember him ever telling you, as many others have and continue to do, that you must accept his viewpoint allowing your stance in superior judgment of him if you don’t.

                • Actually Greg is doing the same thing as Mark and You do Rob….Being argumentative for the sake of being argumentative, while pointing to your blog.

                  As for you poor opinion of me Kailey…. Its one of the things I dont dwell on anymore….. you lost long time ago. and you have been banned twice harassing me at Cowgirl…after a long history of listening to people like you whine, about women– about politics and how it disturbs your version of male testosterone, I just shrug my shoulders and move along, same old stories… nothing to see here.

                  As for Don’s story on how Lee stumbles and fails… they could take a lesson on better paper content. Don hit the nail on the head here. they dont want to pay for better content, or reporters who could write better content….

                  Far better story here than Greg could muster on his site. this is why I check here and Cowgirl first.

                • Sorry to break it to you, Norma, but your information is a bit out of date and somewhat ignorant because you only have your assumptions for comfort.

                • I don’t use assumptions Rob, but I understand your’e quite the expert on using them on everyone else…. Just Saying.

                • You assume and disrespect all the time, what with your broad shrugging shoulders and all. I refer to you by your given name, a sign of respect. You show me no such respect at all. When I refer to you in comment it is always in response to what you’ve written in that thread. You bring me up in random comments with unfounded fantasies of what you think I believe. Notice the word, unfounded. I deal with what you write. You create .. just saying .. lies about my ‘expertise’ regarding things you can’t even demonstrate with my comments.

                  No wonder I have a poor opinion of you, Norma. The only conflict is that you fantasize I shouldn’t.

  • OK, only tangentially related. I understood that Louie Gohmert was supposed to speak at the Rebuplican State Convention. Haven’t seen a word?

  • I’d prefer MSU and UM cooperating on a state news bureau staffed by journalism students and supervised by the j-schools. Lee has decided to inflict short attention span journalism on its readers.

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