While most eyes are on the reprehensible lockout of union workers at the Imerys talc plant in Three Forks, some bad faith bargaining is taking place in Missoula as well.
According to a press release from the Missoula Independent’s newly formed news guild, parent company Lee Enterprises is threatening to close the 27-year-old alternative paper. From the release:
Members of the Indy’s editorial, sales, production and events departments unanimously formed a union in April to have a voice in decisions about our future and the paper’s future. The staff seeks to ensure the paper remains the fiercely independent publication its readers and advertisers trust.
After just two bargaining sessions, Lee Enterprises said it is not convinced Missoula can support the Indy any longer. The paper is losing money, but it’s far from hopeless. However, none of Lee’s proposals so far have demonstrated a serious effort to make the paper viable.
There have already been deep cuts to Indy’s staff, so a turnaround in profitability could be just around the corner. Any further cuts, however, would render it a vestigial organ. The Indy’s online look now mimics Lee’s other websites — perhaps the industry’s most unattractive and difficult to navigate sites on the web — but that should save Lee money, too.
The service provided by the Missoula Independent over the years is unquestionable, especially the long-format pieces on politics, government and culture. It has picked up numerous awards over the years from the Society of Professional Journalists.
It has also cast a critical eye at its current owner, which also happens to own the city’s daily, the Missoulian. Indy Reporter Derek Brouwer, who defected from a Lee Enterprises newspaper in 2015 for less money and more freedom in the alt-weekly world, has written the following stories: “Former Missoulian editor sues publisher, company,” “Missoulian editor addresses gun incident, awaits fate,” “Without any editors, Missoulian gets relief from Billings,” and “‘Rogue’ publisher settles.”
These stories would have never seen the light of day without an alternative weekly publication. BTW, the above links were supplied by the Columbia Journalism Review, which ran a comprehensive piece titled, “Price of ‘independent’: Can this weekly paper stay critical of its new owner?” Here are two quotes from that story:
“Based on my experience with the company, do I have the most confidence that the Indy will become stronger and have an even stronger alternative voice than it has had in its history? Not particularly. But I don’t think the door is shut. I don’t think the future is set in stone,” Brouwer said.
“I think The Missoulian gives us the chips and the Indy gives us the salsa,” says Henriette Lowisch, a journalism professor at the University of Montana who oversees the Montana Journalism Review. “That means they both are hugely valuable for the community.”
Let’s hope, as Brouwer said, the door isn’t shut and the Indy remains a viable alternative to the MSM daily. Here’s how you can help:
The union urges the paper’s supporters to stand up and show it by posting on social media with the #KeepMissoulaIndy tag, writing letters to the editor to the Indy and Missoulian, buying local coupons through iDeals, buying or extending advertising contracts with the paper, and coming to a solidarity event at the Union Club on Sept. 7 from 7-9:30 p.m. More information is available at missoulanewsguild.com.