by William Skink
For some reason I’ve been putting off writing about the Missoula Independent fighting for the right to collectively bargain the degree of their independence from the Lee Imperial Fleet of media holdings. My reluctance is not because I don’t support the intent, voted on unanimously, by the eight eligible staff to protect their future and the future of the Indy.
I am in full support of the Indy staff choosing to organize a stronger voice capable of penetrating the cold, corporate boardroom where profits have priority over everything else. Really it’s now or never. For staff, the symbolism of relocating to Missoulian headquarters was the catalyst. For anyone who checks in with the Indy online, the aesthetic changes seem like a sign of things to come.
I have been a reader of the Indy for as long as I’ve lived in Missoula, 18 years (and counting). I used to read Molly Ivins’ column every week, then I read George Ochenski’s. When the Indy, under the shitty editorial direction of Robert Meyerowitz, lost Ochenski after 12 years, I joined the chorus of concern over what seemed to be happening.
What was happening was this: the business model was ripped like a rug out from underneath alt weeklies. Bleeding out ad revenue to Craigslist and trying to adapt to young consumers and their expectation of free content was more than Saint Matt Gibson could handle. Despite his Herculean efforts to carry the paper, he finally gave in to the benevolent corporation:
Gibson owned the Missoula Independent for 20 years before selling the newspaper to Lee Enterprises a year ago.
In his letter to advertisers, Gibson said the weekly has been losing money and only persisted initially because of his personal commitment to the paper and now the commitment of Lee.
“For the last 11 months, Lee Enterprises has carried the weight,” he wrote. “Despite the very real financial issues, Lee’s treatment of the Indy and its staff since acquiring it last April has been generous, patient, and wholly above reproach. The pressures on the business will persist whether the staff unionizes or not.”
The organizing effort, he said. “is naïve and extremely shortsighted.”
Actually, Matt Gibson, what tends to be short-sighted is the quarterly expectations of shareholders for a return on their investment. They may even want to get rid of you if the rumors that circulate in our little mountain town ever make you more of a liability than an asset to their bottomline.
Even though I’ve had my ups and downs with the Indy, I still look forward to the new issue every Thursday. I usually start with what Dan Brooks has to say, then move on to the latest review from Molly Laich.
I know I’m not alone in my hope that the Indy can preserve its identity amidst the borg-like absorption into the Corporate Mothership, Lee. The road ahead won’t be easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is.