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.


  1. steve kelly

    “Then you better start swimmin’
    Or you’ll sink like a stone
    For the times they are a-changin’.” – Bob Dylan

    http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/bobdylan/thetimestheyareachangin.html

  2. In the brave new world, candidates are all alike and votes aren’t counted anyway. Education leaves people unable to think. Journalism is about servants rather than masters.

    Maybe Johnson and Dennison could become gardeners for the guv’ner or Dennis Washington. It would be a lateral move, prettying up the residences without knowing what goes on inside.

    We are left now with art and lonely Bloggers as outlets of free expression. You might stumble into a blogger’s foxhole while in retreat, Lizard. Be kind to us.

  3. Turner

    Look, Mark, I know you get off on being provocative, but are you seriously contending that “candidates are all alike” and that “votes aren’t counted anyway”?

    Are Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton alike on, for example, the right of a woman to have an abortion or the right of gays to marry? If you have actual evidence that votes aren’t being counted, would you please disclose that evidence?

    Saying that it is theoretically possible for votes not to be counted by Diebold machines is not evidence that this is going on.

    • “Provocative?” I suppose so. I don’t live to provoke, but rather to search for truth. It. Is mostly hidden from view. Life is nothing if not interesting. Surface phenomena rarely tell us anything useful.

      Ted and Hillary, for instance, are merely marketing to different voting blocs. They could easily exchange talking points and run as their opposites. once elected they will do the same thing. They are both Neocons who are smart enough to know where real power lies, and not to cross it.

      Election fraud, black boxes, no audit trails, no paper ballots, the real purpose of HAVA, it’s all out there. If you lack the basic curiosity to look for yourself, will my doing it for you do any good?

      • Turner

        I’m not going to waste my time trying to find support for your strange conspiracy theories. That’s your job.

        • Footnote: Turner here demonstrates the utility of the “conspiracy theory” meme, a thought control device used to warn people away from anything that might interfere with management of their perceptions.

          In this case I merely said that the information he needs is easily available, but fear of committing a thought crime headed him off, and he will not pursue it.

          Lord helps them that helps themselves.

          • Turner

            That’s really, really weak.

            • Things are hidden in plain sight in this land. It’s amazing to behold the phenomenon at work.

        • Steve W

          It is weak, Turner, i agree. A much stronger and salient reply would have been to produce proof that ballots in America are openly and transparently counted. (They aren’t)

          A less salient and not as strong response (but still far stronger than the really weak response) would have been to demand proof that elections are being manipulated. (some are)

          That’s hard to do. It’s almost as difficult as providing proof that bush lied to congress and the american people about the need for war in Iraq. If we could prove that, then bush would be doing jail time, right? (wrong)

          Instead you chose to end any actual exchange of information and to “win” the argument with your verbal trump card.

          “Conspiracy theory” isn’t an argument. It’s name calling. And really weak name calling, at that.

          • I’ve been long down this road both in reading, but in being a CPA and so understanding the essentials of a reliable system of internal control over voting. But more to the point is the idea that we are to be given the form of a democratic system without substance, so that it is not voting that matters, but rather that we believe our vote matters.

            The removal of content while leaving form intact is not news to me. It is not recent. Historically we are simply given choice that make no difference, both parties owned by the same money. But starting in the 70’s there was a deliberate move to making voting itself irrelevant by taking control,of the counting process so that any election could be rigged.

            It is true that the outcome of most elections, like Tester/Ragberg or Obama/Romney is not a real choice. But in those matters where there is a real choice, since we are now almost 100% computerized, elections now can easily be overturned.

            How to communicate this to Turner when he says “conspiracy theory?” He’s just announced that his brain is turned off. There is no point in trying.

            By the way, Victorie Collier, in publishing the book written by her Dad and uncle, Ken and Jim, called “Votescam,” claims that CIA, after the JFK murder, also set out in its wide-ranging coup d’état to make sure elections no longer interfered with their objectives, and so were behind the move to computerize the voting system. It first came to light in, of all places, Dade County, Florida and not in 2000 but in 1972. The Colliers came face-to-face with evil at that Time kne the form of county Janet Reno.

            • In the form of county attorney Janet Reno.

    • lizard19

      Google mysterious death of Mike Connell.

  4. This statement interests me.

    “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?”

    What you’re saying to me (and Don P.) is just who will replace slanted ideological reporting to the masses.

    The comparison between Lee and Cowgirl is telling.

    • I know that you have it in your head, Swede, that the media swells with liberals and this slants all reporting. Because it is both right-wing and dogma, it is received truth. If you ever examined it, you’d find it wrong.

      Lee Newspapers is owned by wealthy members of the investing class. Stop and think: are these self-loathing investors? Why would they bite their own hand?

      Montana Cowgirl is owned and run by the Montana Democratic Party. As such, it has as much interest in “news” as you do in worry beads.

      Each has unstated objectives.

      If Johnson and Dennison had real reporter chops, they’d be burrowing behind the scenes trying to find the sources of finance and influence that control the governor and other puppets hung in front of us as “leaders.” They do not burrow. They report surface phenomena. Why that garners them such high praise is easy to understand: They take up space posing as reporters without reporting. Power likes that. That’s how the selection process works. The Giants of their profession, like Brokaw, Williams, Couric, are quite literally brain dead, and notice how they are so praised and honored by powerful people. Now you know why.

      Cowgirl is in the chumming business, nothing more, constantly tossing red meat to Democrats to keep them occupied. “She” is paid to be somewhat inquisitive about Republicans, and to ignore the crimes and criminals of “her” own party.

      TETL. Not that you read it.

      • So Don and Liz and crew are bemoaning the death of capital reporting because they’re secretly supporters of the ruling class?

        What intricate web you weave.

        • They and I simply disagree on the nature of American journalism. They see a point in it. I don’t. They are sincere, so am I.

          • You’re right Don, Liz and Co. hitch there wagon to a more organized demise of American exceptionalism.

            You on the other hand are fixated on the Chaos Theory of immediate dissolution and destruction.

            • Huh? American exceptionalism is mythology. You buy into it. That’s your problem. You beleive without evidence.

              Your second sentence makes no sense. Come to think of it, neither did the first.

              • You’d offer solutions then wouldn’t ya? Political chaos is the goal or Cloward Piven in a more organized sense.

                Trust no one.

              • Pre WWII we were a corrupt country, but with but a small military were limited in our reach. We messed around in Latin American and the Caribbean, but that was about it. We enjoyed widely shared prosperity and massive belts of poverty, but all those problems did not detract from the ultimate greatness of our land. Problems could be solved.

                Post World War II we became an extension, a continuation of the Third Reich. We brought in German scientists, military and intelligence people, and set up NSA and CIA. Those seeds sprouted, and by 1963 the executive was overthrown, and routinely thereafter – 68, 74, 81. We are now run by a shadow government based on false flag attacks, fear, intimidation and murder. People who kmow are afraid to speak. Our elections are fake, as is our news. Our education system is expensive and useless.

                I am just fresh out of solutions. So I read and write and otherwise enjoy my life.

                I see in you lack of depth and study matched only by your certainty that you are right about everything. You seem to lack a reasoning mind.

              • How can you enjoy your life? You’re trapped in a corrupt country drifting aimlessly.

              • I’m not trapped, I am not drifting, I am not aimless. Other than that you nailed it.

                Truth matters. I am one of many who want to keep’it alive. I am but one insignificant person. I do what I can.

  5. If things continue how will we wrap our fish?

  6. The complaint once was that Lee did not have a Washington bureau. But they did at one time, or perhaps under the Copper Collar.

    I was going through old newspapers on microfiche at the library one time can caught some of that Washington Bureau coverage – it was embarrassing hero worship. Mansfield was elevated to god status once LBJ pushed his button for majority leader, that because he was a rubber stamp. Jim Murray was the other senator who as succeeded by Lee Metcalf, no prize. But once elevated to office, no matter the party, the press is deferential.

    The congressman from the eastern district was Jim Battin, and the Washington correspondent, honestly, referred to him as “Big Jim.” He too was some sort of deity.

    Anyway, having reporters closer to the action no big deal if tehy do not burrow. A press release is a press release, and to get access to powerful people, you have to check your brain at the door. That never changes.

  1. 1 From the Outpost: Papers go dark when news is about them | Last Best News

    […] 4&20 Blackbirds blog may have put the issue most concisely: “So what fills the vacuum? If the answer is […]




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