Montana Voices: Missoula Independent staff weighs in on sale to Lee

By Ed Kemmick/Last Best News

As promised, the staff of the Missoula Independent has written extensively about the sale of the newspaper to Lee Enterprises, the national chain that owns the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette.

The coverage includes news stories, a Q&A section with some damned hilarious segments, an editorial from publisher Matt Gibson and a damned hilarious column from Dan Brooks. (His column also highlights the chief danger of satire: I’m not absolutely sure he was joking about this being his last column.)

It’s all good stuff, even if a faint air of whistling in the graveyard hangs over the issue. Everyone involved wants desperately to believe that Lee will live up to its promise of hands-off ownership, wants to believe its assurances that the Indy’s tradition of hard-nosed reporting on the Missoulian is something that has to continue.

There were more than a few signs of writers pushing the boundaries right out of the gate, to see what will be tolerated in the new era. My favorite was in Derek Brouwer’s piece about talking with Mike Gulledge, the publisher of the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette and a vice president of Lee.

Brouwer, a top-notch reporter who worked briefly at the Gazette, after my time there, before going to the Indy for less pay and more independence, said the only other time he spoke with Gulledge was during his “exit interview” at the Gazette. Here’s how he described his second, recent meeting with the publisher: “Gulledge smiled—he looks a lot like Fantasia-era Mickey Mouse when he does—and extended an arm.”

I also got a kick out of this, from the Q&A:

Q: Can you still swear in print?

A: Our policy remains that we generally try to avoid gratuitous vulgarity except in quotation, where salty language may add color and realism to a narrative. So “fuck yeah.”

But look at me, focusing on trivialities in the midst of a lot of serious reporting and chin-scratching. I think it’s because that reporting, if nothing else, convinced me that we really do need to sit back and see how all this develops. I’m still skeptical about anything Lee dips its fingers into, but the attitude of the Indy staff gives me some faint hope.

They will either continue doing what the Indy has always done so well, or, in doing it, force Lee to put the kibosh on that kind of reporting. I’ve been a semi-regular reader of the Indy for years. I’ll be reading it a lot more closely and more regularly now, as I suspect a lot of other people will do.

And don’t miss the Columbia Journalism Review’s thorough reporting on the Indy sale.

And there’s this, Lee Capitol Bureau reporter Holly Michels’ reaction to one line in the CJR Piece: