by Travis Mateer
After the Dean Stone lecture, featuring Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, David Fahrenthold, I was ready for the Q&A. The audience was primed to be the engaged consumers of media content Fahrenthold was urging them to be, so I raised my hand and Lee Banville, the new director of the Journalism School, came over with the microphone.
After identifying myself as a blogger operating within our degraded local media landscape, I gave David Fahrenthold a scenario, asking if he could tell me if it was newsworthy or not. The scenario: a black man is assaulted in a homeless shelter, then taken to the hospital where the Coroner removes him from life support WITHOUT first contacting the man’s family.
Is this newsworthy, I asked David Fahrenthold? His answer: I would certainly want to know more, he replied.
I then shifted to addressing the audience gathered in the auditorium, asking them to show, by a raise of hands, if anyone had heard the name Sean Stevenson. Not ONE PERSON raised their hand. This is a problem, I said, because that scenario is what happened to him.
It’s no surprise local media is shit and getting worse. Just this week Lee Enterprises made further cuts to Montana newsrooms, as reported by MPR. From the link:
Employees at Montana’s largest newspaper chain say they’re seeing layoffs at papers across the state.
The union for newsroom employees of the Billings Gazette announced on April 7 that six of their members had been laid off by Lee Enterprises. In a statement, the Montana News Guild said they were “devastated” by the cuts.
The union criticized the layoffs and pointed at the earnings of Lee’s top executive officers, who are compensated over a million dollars a year and received a raise in 2022.
Lee Enterprises owns four other papers in Montana. On Monday morning, Missoulian sports reporter Lucas Semb announced on Twitter he’d been laid off.
Who cares about the death of the newspaper industry? Judging by the silvery hue of hair on about 75% of the attendees last night, I’d say old people, like the son of Lee Enterprises “former” CIA hire, John Talbot (John, not Pete, is pictured below).
I took some time to scan the interview and it’s pretty damn interesting. For example, the power of a newspaper to be the instigator of community change was discussed in 1975 as it related to air pollution in the valley. Here is how Talbot describes the role of the Missoulian in leading the “crusade” to address the smog:
I don’t think anyone will argue that LESS pollution was a bad thing for Missoula, so the power and influence of the local newspaper to enact change back then was, I assume, mostly appreciated by Missoulians. But what about the stories NOT covered by local newspapers? Or, in the case of Sean Stevenson, covered like this?
One thing Fahrenthold said that resonated with me was the encouragement he gave to the students in attendance to actually GO to the places they are writing about. I felt much less resonance with how Fahrenthold described using Twitter to research Trump’s claim about donating money to a Veteran’s organization. Maybe that’s because the failure of NATIONAL media platforms has been so much more consequential to the erosion of an informed public, with technology giving us the false impression of a beneficially networked world, when the reality is closer to a control grid tightening like a noose around our collective neck.
While I appreciate the opportunity to pass along my contact information (and additional perspective on local corruption) to an esteemed member of the national press, the news industry Fahrenthold represents is on its death bed, and rightfully so. What comes next is being stitched together by people like me, people putting public truth ahead of personal profit.
Thank you for supporting local, independent journalism!