Lee Newspapers Shuts Down State Bureau
by William Skink
Lee Newspapers, an innovator in self-destruction, sent two seasoned reporters from its State Bureau walking with buy-outs. The news is just now breaking, and my TL on Twitter has erupted with tweets of dismay. Rightly so. Here’s Ed Kemmick reacting:
The news is out that news coverage in Montana is taking a huge hit.
Lee Newspapers is closing its State Bureau in Helena, the Great Falls Tribune has reported, and KXLH TV in Helena has a story that adds some details. Chuck Johnson, who has been covering Montana politics for more than 40 years, will take a buyout and retire.
Mike Dennison, who has done the same kind of reporting for almost 25 years, will be taking a buyout while he looks for a new job. I couldn’t reach Johnson, but Dennison told me Lee offered the two veteran reporters continued employment—if they would accept quite substantial pay cuts.
I get people reacting strongly to this news about news, but no one should be surprised. The slow self-immolation that is perversely rewarded at the executive level continues. A post from Pogreba a year ago tracks the continued decline. It ends with a quote from media analyst Ken Doctor:
If the company continues to cut staff in order to make repayments, it risks diminishing its product to a point that readers won’t pay for it.
If you are reading this post you and I are partly to blame for this critical diminishment of traditional reporting. This is what disruptive technology looks like. Old methods get broken apart and people lose their jobs.
So what fills the vacuum? If the answer is bloggers, we’re screwed.
jhwygirl retweeted an interesting tweet from @bozelandia about one MT blogger who recently gussied up “her” virtual space:
Notified today @TEDTalks starting investigation into similarities between @_ericstern’s Ted talk & Cowgirl posts/possible plagiarism #mtpol
Curious. Maybe plagiarism is contagious?
Regardless, Cowgirl is definitely an important source of news from Helena, trafficking tips from little birds all across the state, but that’s no replacement for 70+ combined years of reporting from real-name professionals. What articles will I copiously quote from and link to now? How does Lee Newspapers expect to cobble together this new gaping hole in their state-wide coverage?
Maybe they just don’t.
Don Pogreba has done a great job tracking the years of newsprint decline, repeatedly bringing attention to the fact Lee Newspapers seems to reward failure:
Lest anyone forget, Lee’s CEO Mary Junck took a bonus of $500,000 during a quarter when the company she leads lost $26 million dollars.
On the surface, this seems absurd. How can a bonus for losing money be justified? But what if losses to justify stripping newsrooms is the actual objective?
As the old salaries go away, freshly minted journalism students will happily snatch up the crumbs. Give them a job and a byline, and you know they’ll work their social media platforms 24/7.
Retaining seasoned professionals just doesn’t pencil out for shareholders. It’s a brave new world. Act accordingly.