Why The Loss Of The Missoula Indy Matters

by William Skink

There is a great long-read about media and unionizing that includes what Lee Enterprises and scumbag Matt Gibson did to the Missoula Indy staff, which you can read here. Here is a portion of the Missoula-relevant part:

On a Tuesday morning in September, Indy staff learned the paper had shut down before the workday even began. The move was abrupt, moreso considering everything had been in place for the next issue. Lee deleted the paper’s social media accounts and essentially salted the earth by replacing its website archive with a redirect to the Missoulian’s homepage.

The impact of a community newspaper can’t be quantified, but that hasn’t stopped people from trying. Last month, an episode of National Public Radio’s podcast Hidden Brain examined the relationship between newspaper closures and interest rates. The show cited research that found interest rates for loans go up after newspapers shut down, due to an increased risk of local government corruption when there aren’t journalists around to play watchdog.

Dan Brooks, a freelance reporter and former columnist for the Indy, said that’s his biggest concern, that the loss of the Indy equates a loss in accountability.

“I think that city and county government are going to be able to get away with a lot in the absence of the Indy because, you know, local television news is not performing that function, and The Missoulian, their staff is overworked,” he said. “They’re putting out the same paper with a smaller staff, and I don’t think they’re in a position to devote resources to longform, long-term investigative journalism.

“It’s a bonanza for low-level, small town corruption.”

Brooks is absolutely correct in his assessment. Losing the Indy means much less scrutiny on local government and government-related agencies that receive Federal funding, like Mountain Line. I know the Indy would have been all over the selective removal of benches near the homeless shelter on Broadway.

I still get angry every Thursday. I get even angrier when I’m looking for information, and I think I find something, but it’s an old Indy article, so I get a redirect to the Missoulian website. In the excerpt above the term “salted the earth” definitely applies.

Now, more than ever, Missoula needs critical voices to counter the drumbeat of development. In a cheerleading piece from the Missoulian about “radical updates proposed for downtown Missoula” the rapacious appetite of development is salivating over getting its hooks on public spaces, like Caras Park. A few weeks ago the city brought in Jason King to present these radical ideas. The Missoulian article makes no effort to explain King’s role or even mention the agency he works for.

Quality reporting. From the link:

Imagine a parking structure instead of the one-level lot near Caras Park, with roof-top restaurants and decks overlooking the Clark Fork River and a main floor public market, where families can relax after playing on the carousel. Imagine a small, nearby winter ice rink that turns into a splash pond in the summer.

He expected the potential changes to the Caras Park area would be the most controversial, and was surprised when 70 percent of audience members taking part in an immediate key pad poll at The Wilma either voted “yes” or “probably yes.” Another 20 percent said they had more questions about it, and 10 percent were opposed.

King was quick to point out that the possible changes to the Caras Park area could top $20 million. He said they understand the public feels tapped out, and instead of floating a bond or using property taxes, the city may need to partner with a developer — something he called a “deal with the devil” as a city planner.

“Usually, we say you don’t give up public space because you will never get it back, but we can’t find any other way to pay for the improvements that people are looking at now,” he said. “This is one that our team had very mixed feelings about.”

Metropolis Missoula is coming. I think about this impending vision for the valley while I’m stuck in standstill traffic on Mullan going to work in the morning. Missoula’s infrastructure is showing serious strains from our growing population, and essential services are struggling. Or maybe I’m interpreting the inability to address criminal behavior in bus shelters during the day along Broadway wrong.

Who is going to fill the void left by the shuttering of the Indy? Not the Missoula Current, that’s for sure. And not some blogger putting up posts in his spare time.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see if local efforts can resurrect something to take the place of the empty space corporate greed (and fucking Matt Gibson) made when they shut the doors and salted the earth.

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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