Archive for the ‘newspapers’ Category

by Pete Talbot

There are lots of ways to interpret the news and write the story.

One version would say the Democrats “took a big gamble” when they tried to block a pair of bills.

Another might read:

Old, straight, paranoid white guys try to cling to power by suppressing the vote.

Guess which way Lee Newspapers’ Mike Dennison took?

Now I have a lot of respect for Dennison.  He’s covered the Capitol and other statewide issues quite well for many years.  He’d probably get into trouble with corporate (and Lord knows there aren’t a lot of jobs in journalism out there these days) if he wrote the lede that needs writing.

Because let’s face it, the Republicans in the Montana Legislature are, for the most part, a bunch of scared, intransigent, backward-thinking white guys (and a few women) who see the way the rest of the country is trending.  And it’s not in their direction.

The Montana GOP could try to moderate its policy, be more inclusive and play the long game.  Or it could attempt to keep young people, immigrants and the disenfranchised from voting.

It’s doing the latter.

So while I appreciate the mainstream media’s legislative coverage, I’ll look to the blogs for the ledes that cut to the chase.

by jhwygirl

Still more rolling on the University of Montana rape scandal – the U.S. Department of Education is investigation the University of Montana over its handling of (at least) 11 rapes of UM students over the last 18 months.

Title IX violations would be devastating, and have a disastrous effect on federal funding availability. The U.S. Department of Education has already found violations in how UMontana handles criminal complaints.

They’ll be coordinating with the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into civil rights violations by UMontana, the City of Missoula Police and County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg’s office.

Van Valkenburg – as a reminder folks – is an elected official, who is up for reelection in 2014.

We’re only getting started on this, Montana. I have little doubt an NCAA investigation is impending…and (just a reminder) UMontana president Royce Engstrom’s contract is up in June. You can speculate for yourself what that means.

In other news – I hope you all caught this editorial by the the UMontana Kaimin editorial board, published two Mondays ago, February 23rd: Go Back to D.C. Jim Foley.

Bold, and much respect in the face of the actions of other leaders within UMontana – such as outgoing ASUM president Jen Gursky who has publicly stood by the University’s handling of the rape and sexual assault scandal since December. A bit troubling, considering her political aspirations here within the City of Missoula – and under the Democratic Party banner.

Vice-president Jim Foley fired back on Friday – showing, quite frankly, his lack of understanding of how the UMontana presents its editorials (a theme they touched on in their call to have him removed) – by saying that he was “staying in Missoula.” While he continued to hid behind privacy concerns (for who, I ask: The victims or the criminals?), he did offer his perspective of the 1st Amendment:

An anonymous and poorly written editorial attacking one’s character is not the signal we should be looking for in print journalism in the 21st century. I like the idea of the Kaimin being the watchdog of UM; however, as the saying goes,the watchdog never barks at one of its own family members. The Kaimin can do better.

So Foley supports the The Kaimin’s right to watchdog journalism – they just shouldn’t watchdog the University.

One is left wondering exactly what kind of education Mr. Foley received in his past life given this lack of comprehension of the 1st Amendment and his understanding of watchdog journalism.

Maybe he should sit in on a constitutional law class. Might do everyone good.

by Pete Talbot

Special session?

There are rumors in Helena that this session could end early.  It’s all coming down to the budget, now, and since the Republicans aren’t accepting any amendments or, really, compromising on anything, their budget proposal will head straight to the governor. Schweitzer will veto it.  That pretty much guarantees an early out — I’ve heard April 2 instead of the scheduled April 21 end date — and a special session.  Thanks, GOP, for not reaching across the aisle and getting the people’s business done in 90 days … and costing the state more money in a special session.

Champ is still a chump

They don’t mind spending money on a special session but are loathe to spend money on children, Montana college kids, seniors and the poor.  Republican Champ Edmunds (HD-100) has a letter to the editor today that plays fast-and-loose with the facts-and-figures in explaining the Republican budget.

A more accurate description comes from Democrat Carol Williams (SD-46):

“The Governor’s budget is balanced, funds critical services and maintains the second largest savings account in Montana history.  The Republican budget is balanced on the backs of women, children and seniors.  Republicans took an ax to the budget when we have money in the bank,” she said.  “I had hoped that we would be able to say to Montana’s families: we’re going to take care of your children if they get sick, make sure you put food on your table, and keep your homes warm.  But the Republican majority turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Montanans who came before the committee asking for services to be restored.”

Here are some of the facts:

* $206.2 million in cuts to the Montana families, kids, students, and seniors

* $49 million eliminated from Medicaid which would result in 4,084 babies losing coverage.

* $34.9 million cut from SNAP/Food Assistance impacting 53,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, and 42,000 adults who would go without food benefits for two months.

* $35 million rejected in healthcare information technology for 47 critical access hospitals in rural areas across the state.

* $26 million slashed from Healthy Montana Kids that would boot 5,000 children off of health insurance.

* $9.6 million removed from LIEAP that will force 12,000 families to go without heating assistance the next two winters.

* $4.7 million cut from family services eliminating services used by over 27,000 Montana families every year for healthcare, screenings and reproductive care.

* $32 million in cuts to higher education, which will result in a tuition increase of 26% over the next two years.

Williams added that with the $174.2 million in cuts to the Health and Human Services budget, Republicans turned back over $80 million in federal money, which could go to other states.  She also noted that the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimates that for every $10 million cut in healthcare, about 144 jobs are lost.  These cuts could result in a loss of over 2,508 healthcare jobs.

The tale of two headlines

I’ve been visiting the Magic City of Billings and reading the Billings Gazette. Here was the Front Page, above the fold, headline on Sunday:

Poll: Tightening up medical marijuana law preferable to repeal

When I checked my hometown paper, the Missoulian, here was its Front Page headline:

Most Favor Repeal

And it had a subhead that read: Lee Newspaper poll shows that 52 percent support dumping law.

Here’s the story, and while the Missoulian headline is technically correct, if you read the entire piece you’ll notice that if not given any other choice, yeah, Montanans would be in favor of a repeal. But, if given the option, 57 percent backed stricter regulations and licensing requirements, while 31 percent wanted to repeal the law and 11 percent favored keeping the current law intact.  So basically, 68 percent don’t favor repeal.

The Gazette got it right.  Missoulian: that’s lazy headline writing.

Molnar screws Missoula

I was pleasantly surprised when two of the three Republicans on the PSC voted to allow the Clark Fork Coalition “intervenor status” in the review of Mountain Water’s sale to the Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm.  Republicans Bill Gallagher and Travis Kavulla joined Democrats Gail Gutsche and John Vincent in the votes.  Volatile Republican Brad Molnar voted against CFC in intervening on behalf of Missoula water drinkers saying, “it’s a purchase issue and they don’t have standing.”  Thanks, four out of five, for voting (initially at least) in Missoula’s interest.  The Garden City needs all the friends it can get while battling this international conglomerate.

Some newspaper kudos

I’m one of the first to throw brickbats at our state’s newspapers. We are, however, extremely fortunate to have veteran Lee Newspaper reporters Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson covering the state capitol.  An unscientific poll over at LiTW (you’ll have to scroll down a little) has blogs being the first source for information on the Montana Legislature — among bloggers, naturally.  That’s a nice ego stroke but I still continue to turn to seasoned reporters as my first source for news and analysis. Then I go to the blogs.  (I particularly respect anything Dennison writes on health care issues.  His Montana perspective on the effects of the national health care debate has been Pulitzer Prize calibre IMHO.)

John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune has done some outstanding legislative reporting although I don’t follow him as much.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Same with Montana Public Radio.  Thank you, all, and keep up the good work.


Its been official knowledge for some time that Michelle Obama hates America, but now she is taking matters into her own hands and is singlehandedly killing Americans… pedestrians that is.

The big news today flying around cantservative “news” sites and blogs is that Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign – a campaign aimed at fighting childhood obesity through encouraging healthier eating habits and a more active lifestyle – has been linked to an uptick in pedestrian deaths in the first half of 2010.  How has this not been called by its proper name yet… an act of terrorism?

The original story appeared in the Washington Examiner this morning in their local section and comes from a recently published report by the Governors Highway Safety Association on PRELIMINARY safety statistics for 2010.  The GHSA representative originally quoted in the Examiner story linking the uptick with Let’s Move has already denied saying any such thing.

The fact that this is getting so much traction is mostly because of the absurdity of the claim and the fact that it makes for a great rabble-rousing headline.  This doesn’t bother me so much as the fact that a “respected” media outlet doesn’t know how to handle statistics and accurately represent them to the public.  As someone who spends most of his workday compiling large amounts of information into databases for the purpose of statistical analysis and mapping the idiocy of the statistical reporting boggled my mind.

The Examiner’s first offence is that data covering six months does not constitute a trend.  Four years of data, yes… two years of data, maybe… six months, absolutely not.  Additionally, this is a preliminary report which means the numbers are likely to change and they don’t even have a margin of error published yet.

Their second offence was cherry-picking the statistics they reported.  The story only talks about the increases in pedestrian deaths and misses a lot of the other information the GHSA report published.  Yes deaths were up significantly in the DC area, but on a national level the increase was only seven fatalities, or .4%, a statistically insignificant number when dealing with close to 2000 total fatalities in that six month period.  They also failed to mention that 28 states saw pedestrian fatalities decrease while only 18 states saw an increase.

Thirdly, the reporter at the examiner apparently can’t read either, given the fact that the GHSA report’s first sentence states, “The number of pedestrian traffic fatalities in the United States for the first six months of 2010 were essentially unchanged.”

And finally, they missed a bigger story embedded in the report.  Just four states make up 41% of all pedestrian deaths – California, Florida, New York, and Texas.  Those four states also happen to be the four states with the highest vehicle miles traveled per year, a total coincidence I’m sure.

These are the kinds of quality stories that are produced when the media, politicians, and the public play at gotcha journalism.  The Examiner doesn’t care that there is not one bit of useful information in the story, or that there are three or four pieces of misleading information, the only thing they obviously care about is driving traffic to their site and stealing five seconds from our precious attention starved web surfing brains.

Now… back to something useful found on the internet… slip nips over at Huffington Post.

by Pete Talbot

When newspapers start to merge, and there has been a lot of that lately, they usually start with the advertising, accounting and circulation departments, and keep the newsrooms separate.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the Missoulian announced that the Ravalli Republic and Missoulian were combining their newsrooms under Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin (although I should have seen the handwriting on the wall with all the Ravalli Republic reporter bylines showing up in the Missoulian’s pages).

So what’s the next step, one daily newspaper serving Missoula and the Bitterroot? This is not good news for any of the communities up and down the valley, Missoula included.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread.

I’m looking for craft shows around the area – and by area I mean Kalispell, Helena, Bozeman, Butte, Deerlodge, Billings, Great Falls. Know any? Let me know below. (Thanks.)

Goddess knows there are plenty of people upset about the County’s plan proposal to consolidate precincts and close polling stations. If you are concerned about the closing of polling stations, and want the county to take time to get community input on putting together a plan that is workable, why not sign Forward Montana’s petition?

Via Missoula’s Heavy Metal Hippy, we learn that Big Foot has been sighted. In Minnesota.


Montana’s lone congressman, Representative Denny Rehberg voted against reforming Wall Street in a vote on the floor of the House yesterday.

We’re making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and who’s nice – congressional elections are coming, to town.

Missoula’s Poverello Center – like other homeless shelters across Montana – have been inundated this week due to sub-zero weather. The Pov has been overmaxed this week, sleeping over 100 on Thursday night. You can help by clicking that link above and dropping $5 or $15 or $50 bucks.

Sometimes you come across something on the intertubes that is unexpected and smart. This post did that for me, and it’s about the escalation of the war in Afghanistan. A superb arrangement of words which ignored all economy.

Couple of short interesting ones….

Out of Bozeman, a 140-year old Christmas cactus.

There’s a huge-ass iceburg floating off of Australia. Be sure to click through the pictures.

Global warming, schmobal warming, right?

In geekdome this week, I found a link on the state’s website for all the state’s online news sources.

I also found Google Scholar. This week it started offering federal and state opinions and patents….which is sure gonna hit up market sources like LexisNexis and Westlaw.

Still more – I am loving Google Scholar – here is a blog post which explains how to use the site. Which means I’ll be bookmarking that blog, too.

Out of Bozeman (again!), we’ve got gravel pits and zoning rising to the surface once again. Remember and the hullaboo about gravel pits about a year or so ago? Well, all that emergency zoning (in lots of places – we’ve the same emergency zoning that occurred here in Lolo) is coming due, placing pressure on local governments to get ‘er done.

Mainly because the legislature failed us, due to GOP amendment of what had been a darn good bill from Bozeman’s representative J.P. Pomnichowski.

I’m closing here with this one: I’ve not been over to Wulfgar!’s in a while, mainly because he’s been so sporadic and I end up getting out of pattern in my surfing. His beloved pooch Mara passed away more than a week ago, and I see he has a post up about her, which I am off to read. That kind of loss is so wrenching, so loyal or pets are. I still dream of my chessie Sadie, wonderful companion that she was.

by Pete Talbot

As much as U.S. Rep. Rehberg and state Sen. Greg Barkus wish they could take back the night of August 27, it ain’t going away.

Lee Newspaper’s Jennifer McKee has a pretty decent analysis of the politics of late surrounding the boat wreck. I have a few comments on her story, of course:

First, McKee states that, ” … Rehberg is heading into a good time to run for re-election as a Republican in Montana and he’s got a lot of money.” I agree with “a lot of money” but why is this a good time to run for re-election as a Republican in Montana? Denny’s the only Republican in the state to hold any sort of high office, which doesn’t trend well. He’s really nothing more than an obstructionist when it comes to health care reform, our economic crisis, climate change … well. the list goes on-and-on. I truly believe that Denny is as vulnerable as he’s ever been. Just look at these polling numbers from August of this year.

The there’s Montana Cowgirl’s withering critique of Rehberg over at Left in the West. She lauds Democratic challenger Dennis McDonald’s charges that Rehberg used “bad judgment” for taking staffers on a boat ride, after drinking, with Barkus at the wheel.

Here’s the story on McDonald’s written attack on Rehberg. I’m not sure how savvy this is and kind of prefer McDonald’s primary opponent, Tyler Gernant’s, take on the accident (which was to bring up health care reform, noting that Rehberg has great, taxpayer-subsidized health insurance whereas, if it were you or me, we’d probably be paying off the medical bills for the rest of our lives). I prefer those who take the high road when it comes personal politics but that isn’t what’s taught in Campaign 101 and I suppose McDonald wants to strike while the iron is hot.

Speaking of Campaign 101, and back to Ms. McKee’s analysis, there are some quotes from political science professor at Eastern Montana College’s (yeah, yeah, I know it’s MSU-Billings now, whatever) Craig Wilson:

“I was a bit surprised by the timing of it,” Wilson said of McDonald’s attack. “It seemed a bit early.”

So when should McDonald attack, if he’s going to at all? A year after the fact? When everyone has forgotten about the incident? I don’t know why Montana journalists always go to Wilson for comments. The guy bugs me (more on Wilson here and here).

Then McKee quotes Will Deschamps, Montana Republican Party Chairman, who castigates McDonald for attacking Rehberg’s “bad judgment.” Deschamps compares Rehberg’s judgement call to McDonald’s support for a health care public option. Huh?

Finally, McKee quotes former Montana Republican Party Executive Director Jake Eaton. Remember Jake? He was behind the voter suppression campaign last fall, and this past summer he’s helping the teabaggers. What a source!

Anyway, it looks like boat driver Barkus’ political career is over. It’s still a question as to how much Rehberg will be hurt by the incident. I sincerely hope that Denny doesn’t lose the race because of this particular case of bad judgment. Unless one is being a total hypocrite, I prefer seeing personal issues kept out of the political debate. Rather, Rehberg should lose because of his lack of judgment on so many legislative matters, and his inability to advance any meaningful legislation in his five terms as our representative in congress.

by jhwygirl

A week ago I blogged about some of the awards awarded to local Montana print journalists by the Montana Newspaper Association. I didn’t know it (because the MNA doesn’t seem too interested in putting a full listing up on its website), but there were more.

The Missoula Independent took home four awards at the MNA’s, with former reporter Patrick Klemz taking home two of ’em. Here they are:
First for In-Depth Investigative Reporting, “Saving Grace,” Patrick M. Klemz
First in Biz Reporting, “Black Gold,” Zach Dundas
Third in Agriculture Reporting, “Time to CUT a Deal,” Patrick M. Klemz
Third for Feature Story, “Reservation Rock,” Erika Fredrickson

I want to note that Klemz did two feature-length pieces that I can remember on brucellosis – I’m sure he’ll correct me if I’m wrong – the other being “Bigger Game,” which bravely put an elk on the front cover, right next to the word “brucellosis”. The Indy was probably the first media outlet anywhere to so visually and verbally connect elk with the spread of brucellosis. That was a very fine piece.

Not bad, huh?

What about 4&20 favorite Jesse Froehling? Well – he garnered two awards from the Society of Professional Journalist’s Northwest Excellence in Journalism awards. Froehling came to the Indy from the Seattle Weekly early last fall. His awards were for his work at the Seattle Weekly, and came for “Kicking the Juans Out of the San Juans,” in the Social Issues category for alternative weeklies (a second place) and another second in the category of Sports for “Tailpipe Dream“. And if you go do a search at the Seattle Weekly for all of Froehling’s work, Missoula Independent fans will know we’ve got plenty to look forward to if his body of work there is any indicator.

Was there more in the SPJ’s awards for the Indy? Yep:
First place for Patrick Klemz in the category of Consumer/Environmental Affairs, “Superfraud”
First place for Andy Smetanka in the category of Lifestyle, “Home in the Hills”
Third place for Skylar Browning in the Sports category for “Time Trial”

The Missoulian also took home eight awards at the SPJ’s, including three for Michael Moore (including a first for Best Column); a first for Chelsi Moy in the category of Personalities; and a second for Tristan Scott (for Social Issues, his piece “Prescription for Addiction”).

A full list of the SPJ’s Northwest awards can be found here.

I also caught last night on KECI a congratulations for Heidi Meili who took home Montana Broadcaster’s Association and the Greater Montana Foundation award for Montana’s On Air Broadcaster of the Year for 2009.

More congrats for all!

by jhwygirl

The Montana Newspaper Association gave out its awards last night – and here’s a list of those north of the line on the various categories. No direct link to the list, yet, on the MWA site, so this is pieced together from the various state newspapers.

The Great Falls Tribune raked in 24 awards at last night’s dinner. Among them were:
~Také Uda for FRONT PAGE (“”Visually arresting, strong to the point heds. Solid news judgment.”)
~Kim Skornogoski for EDUCATIONAL REPORTING (“The submitted body of work is exemplary when it comes to education reporting,” judges wrote. “This is about real people … a homecoming king candidate with Down syndrome; the voice of a teen editorial opinion piece and its controversy, and an outdoor camp that changed people’s lives.”)
~Zachary Franz for several pieces in JUSTICE SYSTEM REPORTING (“Consistent strong coverage separates this entry from the rest.”)
~Gary Moseman for EDITORIAL WRITING (for several pieces, including “Verdicts from commission leave few happy.”)

The Billings Gazette was picked as the state’s best newspaper in the category of large dailies. The Dillon Tribune won as the top weekly or small daily. The Billings Gazette also garnered 12 first place awards, including the following:
~James Woodcock PHOTO OF THE YEAR (& BEST NATURE PHOTO) for for a dog-chases-ducklings image. (OK – I don’t know about the judgment on that one for ‘Best Nature Photo…)
~Ed Kemmick BEST COLUMN WRITING for a selection of City Lights commentaries.
~Matt Hagengruber BEST GOVERNMENT REPORTING for a package on drilling for methane gas at the city landfill.
~Greg Rachac BEST SPORTS EVENT COVERAGE for his story on the 2008 Cat-Griz football game.

The Missoulian didn’t walk away empty handed:
~Written by Michael Jamison and Vince Devlin and photographed by Michael Gallacher and Tom Bauer, BEST ENVIRONMENTAL/NATURAL RESOURCES REPORTING for their four-part “Glacier Park: The Next Century”.
~Betsy Cohen BEST AGRICULTURAL REPORTING for “Horses with no home,” about how the animals are suffering from neglect as the economy falters.

The Daily Interlake, Kalispell’s paper, took a very well deserved HONORABLE MENTION for GENERAL EXCELLENCE, with the judges saying that the Interlake was “more newspaper than a town of its size should expect.” There’s a long list, too, of other honorable mentions – but here’s some bigger ones:
~Managing Editor Frank Miele BEST EDITORIAL PAGE (“sheer volume and differing opinions makes [the Inter Lake] a hands-down winner”)
~Frank Miele also took second-place for Best Editorial Writing (behind the Tribunes Gary Moseman)

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle didn’t do any bragging in today’s edition, but the Missoulian makes mention of their community service award for “Homeless Teens.” (No author attribution, sorry.)

Same with the Helena Independent Record – no bragging over there today, but the Missoulian mentions their BEST ONLINE NEWS PRODUCT for “”

There are some surprises in there for me, for those who are missing – reporters like the Missoulian’s Tristan Scott (the trial for the murder of Forrest Clayton Salcido? the W.R. Grace trial? hello?!) and Great Falls Tribune’s John S. Adams (legislative coverage? hello?!) But enough about that –

Congrats to all!

by Pete Talbot

This will make Rob Natelson happy. In February, over at Electric City Weblog, Prof. Natelson said there was just too much native news in Montana’s newspapers (as opposed to right-wing, white-guy news).

Ms. Rave is leaving the Lee Enterprises newspaper chain (papers in Missoula, Billings, Helena, Butte and Hamilton) to write a book about Blackfeet activist Elouise Cobell. With the dire straights that newspapers are in these days, she probably won’t be replaced anytime soon.

I stumbled across this story at the Reznet website, a project at the University of Montana school of journalism. I imagine we’ll hear more in our state’s newspaper columns over the next few days.

Rave brought a unique perspective to Lee’s newspapers — one that was sorely needed, especially in Indian Country. Her contributions will be missed but I look forward to her book.

(Update: I don’t know how I missed her column on the editorial page of today’s Missoulian.  It’s a good read.  Hat tip to JC.)

by jhwygirl

You are the Governor, after all…and if someone is wanting to meet with you – whether they request it or you do – you do have the right that the press be present.

Hell – some might say that you should insist on it and it is the public, ultimately, that is due that right. I mean – we elected you and all..

Besides that – isn’t there some kind of open-door policy up there in the east wing of the Capitol? Thought I heard something about that a while back….

Thing is – when you say that you ‘expected the Monday meeting to be open to reporters, but mill officials kept the media off the property,’ that sounds, well, kinda lame.

by jhwygirl

A while back, I asked: How would you improve your local paper?

Today, former gubernatoral candidate and every liberal blogger’s favorite, Pogie, of Intelligent Discontent, puts forth a nicely detailed analysis of the general problems, as he sees it, with newspapers. He goes further and talks about what he sees in Helena with the Independent Record.

He hits on the lack of detail in local news. In our previous post here, the lack of local news was generally agreed upon. Pogie’s post goes one step further, citing the lack of detailed analysis. Perhaps a valid statement – which may be why us new junkies here pointed to the lack of local news as one of the Missoulian’s problems. Maybe it isn’t so much the lack of local news, but the lack of meat-and-potatoes to the local news. Issues don’t die after the vote – and beyond that – why are we only hearing about stuff within days of hearing. Isn’t the paper publishing legal notices? Don’t the get the heads-up weeks (if not months) ahead of time? A lot of stuff is moving through the process for a good deal of time.

In the end, all of us – even you readers, I dare say – love reading, love newspapers. We want survival, and change needs to be part of it.

A worthy and important conversation to have. Go join in.

by Pete Talbot

After reading jhwygirl’s various and sundry for the weekend, I stumbled across a few stories that also deserve attention.

First, I get most of my information the old-fashioned way: newspapers. As a matter of fact, most of the nuggets in this post were gleaned from local, regional and national newspapers.

So, this news, that the Detroit Free Press and Detroit News are drastically cutting newspaper delivery was a downer. Of course, staffs and content will also be cut. And as the New York Times explains in the story, other papers around the country may follow suit.

Will the Internet pick up the slack? It seems unlikely since online revenue from websites is a fraction of the revenue generated by advertising in the old, dead tree editions.

What about our local newspapers? Well, one of the Missoula Independent’s cheap holiday gift ideas were shares of stock in Lee Enterprises (publisher of the Missoulian, Ravalli Republic, Billings Gazette, Helena Independent-Record and Butte’s Montana Standard). Shares in Lee are going for around 50 cents, down 98 percent from a year ago.

I was surprised that the Indy included this in their list as I can’t imagine its profits are soaring, either, although it does fill a bit different niche.

Despite our criticism of local newspapers, reporters and editors, the demise of our dailies would be a great loss.

I gotta get me one of them dolls

Here’s an example of a local story that had me wondering in amazement. Reporter Jamie Kelly must have had a hard time writing this piece with a straight face.

Any doll that says “Islam is the light” or “Satan is king” deserves a place under my Christmas tree. Please, K-Mart, put them back on the shelf.

The financial crisis explained

Another reason I love my paper is the comics. When I was a kid in Wisconsin, I’d read the Chicago Tribune’s comics at my grandfather’s knee: Dick Tracy, L’il Abner, Mark Trail (Dick Tracy had this cool two-way wrist radio — the predecessor to today’s cell phone).

I still read the comics everyday. Saturday’s Dilbert unravels the mysteries of the current financial meltdown.

A conundrum

So here I sit, writing about the glories of newspapers on this blog site — a format that probably doesn’t reinforce, for the most part, newspaper readership.

And old 4&20 Blackbirds is doing OK. Sometime on Friday, around 4 p.m., we got our 400,000th visit. While this isn’t huge in terms of Daily Kos or Huffington Post, it ain’t bad for a local blog.

Kudos to Jay Stevens, who started this blog; jhwygirl, the site’s current bread-and-butter writer; Rebecca Schmitz (best headlines); our newest contributor, problembear; Jamie, Jason, et al.

And thanks to our readers and especially those who contribute comments.

by Pete Talbot

I read this Mallard Fillmore cartoon in the local paper last Saturday.

First, it was not based on fact. A quick look at the news that day had many stories on the Dow Jones industrial average. I couldn’t find one story or column on America being a racist nation. But more troubling is the strip’s denial of racism. Mallard Fillmore is the Rush Limbaugh of comics: inaccurate as hell, shallow and mean-spirited.

But it got me thinking. Having elected Barack Obama as president, are we no longer a racist nation?

Unfortunately, my experiences over the past few days would suggest otherwise.

First, there were comments I heard during Thanksgiving in Billings, hosted by in-laws, that were deeply derisive of blacks, Indians and our president-elect. I’m sure these folks don’t consider themselves racist but their language was thoughtless and hurtful. Then there was this conversation overheard in Caldwell, Mont. (You’ll have to scroll down a bit in the piece I’ve linked to. It’s under An unpleasant aside.)

But the most telling was this thread over at Missoulapolis that concerns the holiday stampede and employee death at Wal-Mart. I visit the conservative sites from time-to-time to glean other perspectives. Often, the debate is articulate and civil, but not always, and in this particular case it was downright nasty.

What I found exceptionally disappointing was the fact that so few people challenged an obviously racist remark.

I won’t be visiting that site for quite awhile. It’s too painful.

Racism dead in America? We’ve got a ways to go yet, folks.

by Pete Talbot

Happy Thanksgiving

Indeed, we have so much to be thankful for — living in Montana, and hanging with family and friends — it’s a blessing. Problembear got it right but I have this Utopian dream that some day there won’t be any vets we have to thank. Peace.

On a lighter note, the first Grizzly playoff game is Saturday, and because it’s a holiday weekend and most of the students and many others are out of town, it’s a great opportunity to score tickets. Go Griz and beat those other Bobcats.

More Messina

I finally got around to reading last week’s New Yorker and there was an interesting piece on Barack Obama’s campaign strategy. Montana boy Jim Messina (Idaho and Colorado as well, but he came of age in Big Sky Country) was quoted often in the story. He was Montana Sen. Baucus’ chief of staff before being tapped as the Obama campaign’s chief of staff. Now he’s the deputy chief of staff at the White House (think Josh from West Wing).

On being in charge of Obama’s campaign budget Messina said, “I spend the money, so everything here’s gotta go through me to get spent, which is the best job ever. It’s like getting the keys to a fucking Ferrari.”

And there’s much more campaign analysis in the issue.

Yellowstone Club

Lots in the news lately about the the private ski area for the uber-rich that recently filed for Chapter 11. Here’s the latest from Bob Struckman over at NewWest.

Anyway, my ski buddies are all over this. One of them has an old, burned-out trailer he wants to haul up there. He figures since the club is having a hard time making payroll, security must be lax — just plop that trailer down in an empty lot and maybe get squatting rights.

I’m sure Yellowstone Club residents Bill Gates, Tiger Woods, Dan Quayle, et al., won’t mind.

A new low

It’s a sad story for the Iowa-based newspaper corporation that owns daily papers in Missoula, Billings, Helena, Butte and Hamilton, and also a number of weeklies. Lee Enterprises stock fell to $1 on Wednesday (down 91 percent from a year ago). That puts it in the penny stock realm and this can’t be good for those of us who depend on the newspaper for our morning fix. A weak press serves no one. Newspapers are part of the ‘fourth estate’ which keeps an eye on government and reports on daily happenings. This does not bode well for the public.

I also feel sorry for those employees, retirees and other Montanans who banked on Lee stock as a nest egg. It’s almost as bad as those folks who depended on Montana Power stock as a safe haven for the future.

by Pete Talbot

National Notice

Montana makes the New York Times election news. There’s nothing groundbreaking but it’s a good synopsis of what’s happening here and about Barack Obama’s chances for taking the state. The reporter, Jim Robbins, writes about Montana a lot. I believe he did a number of stories on the Tester/Burns contest in 2006 for the Times. (Sometimes the Times makes you log in to access stories so I’ve also reprinted the piece below the fold.)

Robbins interviewed former Democratic Congressman Pat Williams for the progressive perspective and state Sen. Joe Balyeat (R-Bozeman) for the, eh, conservative perspective. Joe Balyeat! Might as well interview Ghengis Khan if you’re looking for a right-wing nut’s point of view. Of course, Balyeat states that, “his (Obama’s) radical view on guns … ” is the reason Obama will lose in Montana. We’ll see, Joe, we’ll see.

No Dividends

Hope you’re not holding a lot of Lee Enterprises stock and counting on those dividend checks. It’s hard times in the newspaper industry and Lee, which publishes five dailies in Montana, including the Missoulian, has suspended dividends indefinitely.

It has also cut employee benefits and bonuses for executives. All this was dictated by the banks that are restructuring Lee loans.

This is sad news for a newspaper junkie like me and doesn’t bode well for the newspaper reading public. And my heart goes out to those working stiffs at all the papers who are suffering layoffs, reduced benefits and an unsure future.

I also give kudos to the Missoulian for printing the news story about this newspaper chain’s misfortunes. It’s really bad PR and could have been covered up, but wasn’t.

Continue Reading »

by Pete Talbot

It’s the water

For years, I’ve suspected there was something in Ravalli County water. Those wacky Bitterrooters have been voting down school bonds, opposing planning and zoning, and muttering death threats against those who believe ATV’s shouldn’t roam everywhere on God’s green earth.

Montana’s Commissioner of Political Practices, Dennis Unsworth, confirms the funky water. He talked about the flurry of political complaints being filed at his office, half of them from Ravalli County:

“I don’t know if there’s something in the water here … ” he said, while visiting the county and adding that because of explosive growth in the valley, and the age-old Montana battle between private property rights and planning, complaints are flying.

The item on the ballot igniting this furor is the potential repeal of the county’s growth policy.

I thought that maybe they’d cleaned up the water after seeing a couple of sensible commissioners elected in the last go-around and then advancing a reasonable plan to mitigate growth. Guess I was wrong.


Are there really people out there who don’t know who they’re voting for, yet, for President? Maybe you’ve seen them interviewed on the TV news shows, and like me, shake your head in amazement.

Writer David Sedaris wonders about them, too, in this week’s New Yorker:

“I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist. Are they professional actors? I wonder. Or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?

To put them in perspective, I think of being on an airplane. The flight attendant comes down the aisle with her food cart and, eventually, parks it beside my seat. “Can I interest you in the chicken?” she asks. “Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?”

To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”

The Gazette takes a stand

Jay over at LiTW has already noted the Billings Gazette editorial endorsing Obama. It got me wondering what the other newspapers in the state were doing, so I Googled them — except for Kalispell’s Daily Interlake, because I just don’t care. Helena did some statewide races. The Great Falls Tribune “went out on a limb” and endorsed Baucus and Rehberg. Otherwise, I can’t find a thing. I know the Missoulian quit doing endorsements nearly a decade ago and maybe the other papers are waiting until this Sunday or something.

The Missoula Independent will be endorsing in this Thursday’s edition but not the presidential race. Indy editor Skylar Browning explained that the paper likes to focus on statewide races, ballot initiatives, PSC, etc.

Any endorsements in the Montana press that you, faithful readers, are aware of? Please let me know. BTW, the Associated Press has a list, updated regularly, of what the national papers have been doing endorsement-wise.

(UPDATE: As of Tuesday, October 28, according to Editor and Publisher, 222 newspapers have endorsed Obama and 93 newspapers have endorsed McCain. Wow. No Ron Paul, Bob Barr or Ralph Nader endorsements that I could find.)

(UPDATE #2: Great Falls Tribune Managing Editor Gary Moseman called me back. He said the Trib won’t be endorsing in the presidential race but has been actively endorsing in statewide and local races. He said that the paper quit endorsing presidential candidates in 2000, mainly because it had little influence on how people voted but pissed off (I’m paraphrasing here) a lot of people. He added that the Trib only endorses in races where reporters and editors can interview the candidates.)

by Pete Talbot

I hate polls

“Charles Franklin, a University of Wisconsin political science professor and polling authority, said variation between polls occurs, in part, because pollsters interview random samples of people.”

That quote comes from an Associated Press story and poll that has McCain and Obama basically tied. But talk about “random,” the story continues with these stats:

Obama and McCain were essentially tied among likely voters in the latest George Washington University Battleground Poll, conducted by Republican strategist Ed Goeas and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake. In other surveys focusing on likely voters, a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Obama up by 9 percentage points, while a poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center had Obama leading by 14. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, among the broader category of people registered to vote, found Obama ahead by 10 points.

That’s a 14 point spread. I think I’ll wait for Jimmy the Greek to give odds before really believing any of the numbers I’ve seen.

UPDATE: Latest MSU-Billings poll has Obama at 44% and McCain at 40% IN MONTANA! There’s a 5% margin of error, but still … maybe I’ll forego my cynicism about polls for the evening.

Bait and switch

The Missoula Independent had an interesting piece on the Ravalli Republic. Apparently, Ravalli County Democrats contracted with the paper to put those little sticky ads on the Republic that you see from time-to-time on the front page of many newspapers. These pro-Democrat ads riled up a herd of Ravalli County Republicans, who threatened to cancel their subscriptions. The Republic then moved the stickers to the inside of the paper. The publisher claimed this wasn’t done to placate Republicans but because of a corporate rule that says political ads can’t appear on front pages. Funny thing is, I remember getting my daily dead-tree edition delivered to me in a plastic bag with “Vote for Conrad Burns” printed on it about two days before the 2006 election. So, bags are OK but stickers aren’t?

Here’s hoping nice guys finish last

I’ve heard there are a few “Democrats” out there pushing County Commissioner Larry Anderson’s election bid. The Republican incumbent is running against Michele Landquist for the six-year position. Incumbent is a little misleading, though, as Anderson wasn’t elected to the seat but anointed by retiring Republican Commissioner Barbara Evans.

These folks are endorsing Larry for different reasons but the recurrent theme is, “he’s a nice guy.” That may well be but I want more than a “nice guy” as our third commissioner. I want someone who will be innovative and progressive. Considering Larry served on the staffs of both Rep. Denny Rehberg and Sen. Conrad Burns, I’m guessing he’s neither. And I remember his tenure on city council as being a conservative obstructionist, to say the least.


by jhwygirl

What do they have in common?

Read this, via the Billings Gazette, and you’ll figure it out.

(Sorry – that one couldn’t wait until Saturday)

by Rebecca Schmitz

Dragons. Santa Claus. Unicorns. All are things most people no longer believe in. Hell, even the Bhutanese question the existence of the yeti. But there’s a mythical creature out there that the credulous among us insist still exists.

[cue scary, dramatic music]

The liberal media!


Anyone who paid the slightest bit of attention during the run-up to the Iraq War knows there’s no such thing. From that great “liberal” flagship the New York Times down to your local fishwrap, the media simply passed along the fairytales spun by the Bush Administration. And yet, the myth persists.

Two posts elsewhere this past week debunk this curious belief.

If you haven’t been paying attention, Pogie over at Intelligent Discontent has been writing a great series about the political farce better known as the “#dontgo” show, and the role the media has played in perpetuating the myth of our lackluster Representative’s concern about the energy crisis.

The Missoulian loved the story so much that it offered an editorial that was a barely reworded version of the original Rehberg press release [snip] It turns out that Representative Rehberg went to do the “people’s work” for exactly one day. Let’s ignore the fact that news stories about the Republican faux Congress ignored the past recess practices of these members, their trips, and their justifications for leaving. Let’s ignore the fact that the Montana media left out any context about the nature of these show debates.

How could they not notice that Rehberg wasn’t even there the rest of the week?

The creators of any fantasy world, whether it’s Middle Earth, Discworld, or the liberal media, have to add enough detail to make it seem real to his or her audience. And thus we have the oft-told story that the liberal media always, always supports public education. One of Missoula’s favorite booksellers, Shakespeare & Co., pokes a hole in that folktale.

Man–I really object to this story about Montana schools fail No Child marks for yearly progress (Missoulian, Rob Chaney). First of all 71 percent of them passed. Secondly any “failure” is a bunch of transparently self-fulfilling bullshit. The radical right does not believe in public education (or public much of anything) and so they create “standards” that are specifically designed to stigmatize public schools as failing. Then they starve education (at every level) of adequate funding. Then the Missoulian reports it: Montana schools fail.

Job done.

Nice going, Missoulian.

There’s an easy way to disprove any myth: direct observation. Wondering if there’s really a Santa Claus? Stay up long enough, and you’ll see your parents put your gifts under the Christmas tree. Scared of the monsters under your bed? Shine a flashlight underneath it just before bedtime. And convinced there’s a big scary liberal media out there? Just look at the blogroll there to the right. If the mainstream media was really all that liberal, why do the rest of us exist?

by jhwygirl

Not when the Washington Post is on your you-know-what.

Guess he’s going to have to stop making excuses now.

Oops. Linky fixed. Sorry.

by Pete Talbot

Which does a better job of serving democracy: the (dying) newspaper industry or the (surging) Internet and its related blogs?

“… it is impossible not to wonder what will become of not just news but democracy itself, in a world in which we can no longer depend on newspapers to invest their unmatched resources and professional pride in helping the rest of us to learn, however imperfectly, what we need to know.”

That excerpt is taken from this week’s New Yorker magazine and a fine, analytical article by Eric Alterman.

Your daily newspaper is on the ropes. I’ve written about this before. It’s trying to make the digital transition but hasn’t really succeeded. I’ll read a blog site from a specific reporter but do I read the Missoulian’s catch-all blog, Western Montana 360? Do I visit the paper’s video inserts on its website? Hardly ever. This isn’t what I look for in journalism and it also seems so far behind the curve. Reporters are already overtaxed, don’t make them shoot and edit video, and blog.

But Alterman’s piece isn’t solely a defense of the old “dead tree” medium:

“The Web provides a powerful platform that enables the creation of communities; distribution is frictionless, swift, and cheap. The old democratic model was a nation of New England towns filled with well-meaning, well-informed yeoman farmers. Thanks to the Web, we can all join in a Deweyan (as in John Dewey, an advocate for democratic education) debate on Presidents, policies, and proposals. All that’s necessary is a decent Internet connection.”

Blogs are currently niche driven. I blog, obviously, but I’m also a bit of a dinosaur. Reading the newspaper each morning is as ritual for me as salat (prayer) for a Muslim. It connects me to the rest of the masses, albeit diminishing, who read the newspaper — and not only current news events but sports, features, editorials and letters. I also find out what Dilbert’s up to, if Lindsay is still in rehab and whether the cross-dressing husband in Dear Abby really needs counseling. Reading the newspaper keeps me part of a well-rounded, informed community.

What troubles me about blogging and the Internet is it’s potential for narrowing the discourse. If all I read is Daily Kos or, how can I understand other’s perspectives?

Alterman sums it up:

“And so we are about to enter a fractured, chaotic world of news, characterized by superior community conversation but a decidedly diminished level of first-rate journalism. The transformation of newspapers from enterprises devoted to objective reporting to a cluster of communities, each engaged in its own kind of “news”––and each with its own set of “truths” upon which to base debate and discussion––will mean the loss of a single national narrative and agreed-upon set of “facts” by which to conduct our politics.”

It’s a conundrum. I’m hoping for the best — a melding of the objective, professional journalistic standards and resources of the print medium with the accessibility, speed and democracy of the Internet. I fear the worst — the lack of resources of the blogosphere to, for example, set up a bureau in Baghdad or do a five-part series on Darfur; and all we have left is the narrow bantering of self-anointed elites who have no stake in consensus, or understanding of the world around them.

by Pete Talbot

The next obituary you see in the Missoulian may be the Missoulian itself – along with the Helena Independent-Record, Billings Gazette, Ravalli Republic and Butte’s Montana Standard.

I’m guessing that the loyal readers of this blog site don’t follow the day-to-day New York Stock Exchange listings of the newspaper publishing industry. I do. I’m from a newspaper family. At my grandfather’s knee, I used to watch guys turn melting lead ingots into the plates that went on the presses that then cranked out the daily paper.

Stock in Lee Enterprises, the company that owns the above-mentioned papers, is at its lowest point in a dozen years. And in less than two years, its stock has lost more than 50 percent of its value.

This does not bode well for the newspaper reading public. As Lee tries to keep its board of directors and stockholders happy, it will be cutting back on everything: reporters, editors, features and technology. It’s a downward spiral.

This is painful for a newspaper junkie like me. The first thing I do in the morning, no matter where I am, is get a cup of coffee and read the paper. I suppose that I could go on the Internet and surf around for all the news I need but it just isn’t the same.

That’s part of the irony here. The Internet is the most responsible for the death of the newspaper. Newspapers have been slow to adapt. The industry hasn’t quite figured out how to capitalize on the Internet. A few of the national newspapers of record will most likely survive – the New York Times and Washington Post and, ugh, USA Today – but the smaller dailies are in big trouble.

Newspaper online revenue from advertising is a fraction of the revenue a paper gets from the full-page ads, glossy inserts and classified advertising one sees in the daily rag. For example, who needs a daily’s want ads when you can go to Craig’s List on the Internet?

Despite my (and many of my blogging colleagues’) constant criticism of the mainstream media’s failings, I believe newspapers play an important role in society. I also believe that most reporters and editors strive to be objective in their craft. The same cannot be said about the many blog sites out there and it is important to have a measuring stick – a sort of mainstream public pulse – on which to gauge the rants of bloggers.

Newspapers (and to a lesser extent, other periodicals, TV and radio) aren’t called the Fourth Estate for nothing. It’s a brave new world and it is my sincere hope that real journalism can survive the death of the daily.

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