By Jim Harmon

Dear Savannah Guthrie, I’m sorry I fired you.

It’s actually true. Your humble history columnist actually did fire (well, “laid off”) the one and only Savannah Guthrie, in what became known as “Black Friday” in Butte: October 30, 1993.

The story is making news again as NBC Today Show host Savannah Guthrie promotes her new book, "Mostly What God Does; Reflections on Seeking and Finding His Love Everywhere."

She includes the story of her very first TV job after graduating college.

attachment-Book Cover

She was 21 years old, excited to get started in the TV news business, and applied for a one-person-band job (doing it all: carrying the equipment, filming her own stories, editing and appearing live on TV) at KTVM-TV in Butte.

Unfortunately, that’s where I come in. Yes, I played a part in her first job and her first layoff.

She recalls, “I enthusiastically started my job at this tiny station with a newsroom staff of four, including me. Right away, I was shooting and reporting and editing; I was Butte, Montana's Diane Sawyer for 10 days.”

attachment-KTVM Sign

“That is when the management called a meeting and closed the station. My TV career was over and I hadn’t even lasted two weeks. That was my big break. And it was gone."

"If you had told that girl lying on her bed, crying, humiliated and kind of too broke to even get home, that one day she’d be here (NBC News) … well, all the old rusty mining equipment in Butte, Montana, could not have lifted her jaw off the floor.”

It was a rough day. In her words, “You’re soaring one minute, you are crushed the next; it thrills you and it challenges you and sometimes it breaks your confidence and sometimes it breaks your heart (but) I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Savannah, you deserve to know the backstory leading up to that heartbreaking moment.

A couple of years before the incident, the owner of Eagle Communications, Bob Precht, and I had a conversation about the future of the news operations at the four stations he owned in western Montana. I was the corporate news director at the time.

The specific question was whether it would be advantageous to originate local newscasts at each of the company’s stations in Kalispell, Missoula, Butte and Bozeman, or continue rebroadcasting a regional newscast produced in Missoula and carried on all four stations.

I voted to go local, believing each station could better serve its viewers with local anchors reporting local news to each local audience. Bob agreed, and the plan was implemented.

It worked well with audiences in Missoula, Kalispell and Bozeman. But the viewers in Butte felt short-changed. They were used to seeing more experienced anchors and reporters from Missoula, and didn’t much like the new approach or the entry-level staff. Ad revenue dropped, and Mr. Precht ordered the Butte newsroom closed, immediately.

I argued strongly against it … but conceded, if it absolutely had to happen, at least give the staff more time so each employee could make plans, apply for other jobs, etc. Bob’s answer was no; he had sustained too much financial loss already.

It fell to me to break the bad news to the Butte news staff, including the new journalist just hired, Savannah Guthrie.

Photo - NBC News/Savannah Guthrie
Photo - NBC News/Savannah Guthrie

My wife, upon hearing this story, was near apoplectic: “You fired Savannah Guthrie? What the heck were you thinking?”

“Well, dear, it certainly wasn’t what I would have wished, but my job did include hiring (and occasionally firing, or laying off) employees,” I said.

Savannah was among hundreds of entry-level journalists I hired over the years, fresh out of college and excited about her first real job. Unfortunately, she became caught up in events that neither she nor I could have predicted.

I hate those kind of moments.

And Savannah, I’m sorry I fired you. At least now you know the backstory. I look forward to reading your book!

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at