Independent connects initiatives to Howard Rich

The latest to connect the dots between Montana’s extremist ballot initatives – 98, 154, and – and real estate mogul Howie Ric is the Independent’s Alyssa Work: “Following the Money.”

The story features a closer look at Jon Motl, the Helena lawyer challenging for a right to peek into Travis Butcher’s Montanans in Action (a misnomer, if ever there was one), which has paid for a swarm of signature gatherers to cajole Montanans into signing petitions. The story, for the first time in a Montana print-based publication, acknowledges Howard Rich as a primary source of the money flowing in to the state.

Americans for Limited Government is chaired by New York’s lavish-spending libertarian Howard Rich. Connecting the dollar signs between Rich’s Chicago-based ALG and Montanans in Action has been mostly an exercise in speculation, since Montanans In Action’s finance report discloses no contributors, but Rich recently told High Country News that he gave $200,000 to MIA through his Fund for Democracy, and Butcher acknowledged in June that ALG had given a loan to MIA; the committees’ finance reports declare more than $8,000 in checks for loan repay to ALG “lost.” An e-mail Butcher sent to ALG President John Tillman requesting a routing number for a petition-gathering outfit is also in Motl’s complaint to suggest ties between the two organizations.

For those of you following this story closely, Work’s piece doesn’t bring much new to the table. But it does mean that the weekly has scooped the state’s dailies. No offense to the Independent, but the local papers have given the alternative paper plenty of time to get the story out first.

So why silence from the Missoulian, Gazette, IR, etc? I doubt if there’s a conspiracy to help Rich thwart the notion of government by remaining mum on his participation in these terrible initiatives. What’s more likely is that the papers are getting quotes and confirmation and trying to build a more thorough and less “speculative” story.

Which ultimately means they’re thumbing their noses at both the High Country News and blogger Hart Williams. Sure you might argue that information from sites like these is unreliable…but to ignore the stories completely? That just doesn’t make sense. HCN got a quote from Rich that acknowledges he funded these initiatives. Surely that is news, isn’t it?

According to the papers it ain’t news until one of them prints it. And until a newspaper prints the link between the initiatives and Howie Rich, they’re going to pretend nothing’s been said about it. And believe me, when a Montana reporter finally gets around to her fact-checking, you can bet your farm there won’t be a single mention of the blogs or High Country News or even the Independent when attributing the information. They’ll pretend its their story.

Of course I don’t really care if they take ownership of the story. I wish they would. That’s the problem. Tick tock, people! Time is money! Let’s get on it already!

Part of the problem, I suspect, is that these traditional news outlets are still struggling with changing technology and the impact on journalism it’s having. Take the Missoulian’s recent decision to put some of its stories behind a firewall…why would they do such a thing?

“On-line news sites have benefited by the subsidy they have received in form of free or discounted news that they get from print and broadcast media. At the Missoulian we employ 42 professional journalists who are paid professional wages. An online model alone will not support a staff of that size in a market the size of Missoula. They generate original content that is often reused by sites that contract with the Associated Press for their content, and is often used by other sites without our authorization or permission…”

There’s a feeling of conflict with blogs latent – or not so latent – in this statement. We’re a threat in the eyes of paleo-publishers. Forget that blogs actually increase visibility for a paper (look how much play the Gazette gets nationally for its coverage of Burns and the Abramoff scandal), just as downloading free music actually increases the sales of music.

Get over yourselves already traditional media people. Share your content with the world, get some cool online features on your site, and rake in the cash through a different sales model. Like selling ad space on your site. Or having subscription-based services with low overhead – job or dating boards, e.g. The better the website, the more readers you’ll have.

Here’s a little tidbit. I actually applied for the job of running the Missoulian’s online site. I suggested all these things, different models for revenue, different features to attract clicks, the whole kebang. I didn’t get the job. Based on their site, I’d say they picked a person whose previous experience was designing velvet wall hangings for metal bands.

Anyhoo…

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