The headline at the online Lee Enterprises-owned Missoulian is “Missoula Independent newspaper closes” which reads better than “We closed Missoula Independent newspaper.”
But that’s what Lee, headquartered in Davenport, Iowa, did. Missoula Current has some of the details although there are still a lot of unanswered questions.
Those who showed up for work at the Missoula Independent early Tuesday found the office locked and were told to make an appointment to collect their belongings, a staff member has confirmed.
Lee purchased the Indy last fall from owner Matt Gibson. It then made Gibson the general manager for Lee’s Missoulian, Independent and Ravalli Republic. Gibson purchased the Indy about twenty years ago from the newspaper’s founding members. In an ironic twist, Gibson, who had kept the paper going for nearly two decades, was at the Indy this morning behind locked doors, according to staffer Ariel LaVenture:
“Their HR people are in the building, along with Matt Gibson, and we’re not allowed in,” LaVenture said. “We have been instructed to call someone from the Missoulian, who will instruct us to set a time and come in and collect our belongings.”
Earlier this year, Independent staff filed a petition to form a union. Negotiations had been underway but, according to the union’s website, Lee’s position was to:
…eliminate most of our non-management staff by outsourcing all functions besides reporting, leaving as few as one and one-half positions, or 2) shut down the Independent. The company has not yet tried to explore 3) literally anything else.
Granted, it’s not easy to make money in the newspaper business these days, especially as an independent weekly in a midsize market. According to a reporter I spoke to, though, efforts were underway to restructure the paper without laying off three quarters of the staff and profitability could have been achieved. Lee chose to cut and run.
It’s a sad day in Western Montana for lovers of alternative, independent journalism.