At some point back in 1995 as a student at the University of Montana, I grabbed a copy of the Missoula Independent to peruse the offerings.
Back then, before the advent of social media, the weekly paper ran “I saw you” ads in the classified section. I was certain, at some point in time, somebody would certainly see me somewhere around town, and they would be compelled to write about it in a classified ad in a vain effort to connect with yours truly.
Of course, nobody ever saw me and if they did, they decided I wasn’t worth writing about, much less connecting with. Even in this age of social media, the same old story holds true. I’m about as bland as they come.
Like many Missoula residents, I was saddened last week when Lee Enterprises pulled the plug on the Indy, a paper that had enjoyed a promising run over several decades and played a commendable role in our community – a role that won’t be easily filled, if it’ll be filled at all.
The era that gave the Indy its rise has likely come and gone, and it’s not the only alt-weekly to close its doors in recent times. The 62-year-old Village Voice in New York City ended its historic run, as did the City Paper – Baltimore’s own alt-weekly. Others went by the wayside long ago and were keenly noted in a Politico story titled “A Eulogy for the Alt-Weekly.”
Whether Lee intended to close the Indy all along or if it was a prudent business decision made after fiscal consideration may only be known to the company’s corporate owners. But since the announcement, many have asked me what impact the Indy’s demise will have on the Missoula Current, which now stands as the city’s only “independent” news publication.
In truth, a good reply has been hard to craft, as any answer I could offer would be based on speculation. But the fact is, in the past week, the number of local “newspapers” in Missoula has been cut by one-third, and of the two remaining, only one is locally owned and operated.
In full disclosure, I worked for Lee for 18 years and must confess, I learned most of the skills I now possess while with the company. Back in the day, Lee invested in its reporters and offered them workshops to develop new skills as both a journalist and as a storyteller.
That effort vanished long ago, however, and a good number of the reporters I learned from were forced to retire as a cost-cutting measure. They’ve been replaced by young reporters who are as hungry as I was back then, and by and large, they’re doing good work.
Over the past week, one thing has become clear: The loss of the Indy has increased the scrutiny and expectations placed upon the Missoula Current. While we’ll never be the Indy, and while we don’t aspire to write those tongue-in-cheek stories on local issues, we do aspire to bring Missoula top-notch reporting, and to do so with as much balance as humanly possible.
This has been our mission from Day One, dating back to mid-December 2015 when the Missoula Current went live. Back then, the site was small and the stories were limited. We had no ads, few readers and no contributors. Nobody knew we existed, but we had a vision and a mission, and we’ve stuck to it for almost three years now.
Because of that dedication, things have changed substantially since then. In the past five days, our small team of reporters has produced 17 locally generated stories – a number that exceeds our larger competitor. We also published six columns from local readers and three videos. This doesn’t count the number of stories published from outside sources, such as Courthouse News or the University of Montana.
Going back to that cold December three years ago, I would have been hard pressed to predict the growth we’ve experienced over the past year. Our pageviews now exceed 115,000 a month, and our stories are increasingly shared by national publications. Our partnership with local organizations continue to grow as well, from the School of Journalism at UM to the Missoula Downtown Association and a number of nonprofits.
In an interview I did last week, someone suggested their organization was looking to rebound from recent employee turnover and build “the lasting relationships any entity needs to really become an institution in our community.”
While you don’t become an institution in three short years, I believe the Missoula Current is on the path to becoming that institution, one that’s based on trust, strong partnerships and a desire to offer readers a solid option when it comes to local news and information.
Though we’ll never be perfect, and while we may upset you from time to time, we ask you to join the team and help inform Missoula’s rapidly changing media landscape. The Indy may be gone, but we’re still here, and we’re the definition of independent news, even if we don’t prefer to carry the “alternative” moniker.
While our readership continues to grow, so too have the number of readers who are willing to support that cause, readers who make a small monthly contribution to keep the Current free and further grow its resources, which in turn fuels more reporting. With your continued support, we can ensure Missoula has more than one option for news and information well into the future.
Martin Kidston is a Marine Corps veteran and a 1997 graduate of the University of Montana. He founded the Missoula Current in 2015 and lives in Missoula.