Lee Enterprises closes Missoula Independent after it unionizes

Sep 13, 2018 by

Journalists at the Missoula Independent organized with The NewsGuild hoping to save that alternative weekly.

But rather than negotiate a first contract with journalists at the Independent, Lee Enterprises decided to shut it down.

Last year Matt Gibson sold the Independent to Lee, which owns the daily Missoulian newspaper in that community as well as several other Montana newspapers. At the time, Gibson said he hoped the arrangement would allow the Independent to gain the efficiencies needed to continue on.

But did Lee buy the newspaper with the long-term plan of shutting it down to eliminate competition?

“It certainly seems like the direction things were headed almost from the time Lee Enterprises purchased the Indy, and certainly once the Indy staff unionized,” Lee Banvill, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Montana, told the Missoulian.

Did unionization doom the newspaper?

“It might have changed the timing,” Banvill told the Missoulian. “It took the debate about the future of the alt-weekly public and it also clearly rankled Lee Enterprises to have to deal with a union. It may have sped things up.”

The United Media Guild has developed a good working relationship with Lee Enterprises in recent years. We have worked with the company to maintain strong journalism at the Post-Dispatch in the face of declining industry revenues.

But we find its shutdown of the Independent most disconcerting. More newsrooms will be organizing in the months ahead. Journalists are coming together seeking to preserve their craft and fight for the survival of their newspapers.

Lee Enterprises, GateHouse, Tronc, Gannett and Digital First must realize the Guild is not going away regardless of what tactics the company uses to discourage unionization.

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GateHouse guts Peoria Journal Star newsroom

Sep 13, 2018 by

GateHouse Media announced the layoffs of five Peoria Journal Star journalists represented by the United Media Guild last week, adding to its massive reduction of that newsroom workforce.

The casualties included reporters Chris Kaergard, Thomas Bruch and Aaron Ferguson as well as copy editor Shannon Countryman. Copy editor and page designer Wes Huett, will be laid off on September 21.

Veteran reporter Pam Adams left previously and the Journal Star also lost sports editor Kirk Wessler, editorial page editor Mike Bailey and assistant city editor Brad Erickson.

These cuts mirror the relentless cost-cutting that has diminished other GateHouse newspapers, including the Rockford Register Star, State Journal-Register and Pekin Daily News.

This all is part of the GateHouse Media business plan, as devised by Wes Edens and Co. at Fortress Investment Group. GateHouse slashes costs to maximize cash flow — which its parent company, New Media Investment Group, uses to pay big dividends, fund new acquisitions and pay hefty external management fees to Fortress.

These cuts accelerate the decline in circulation and advertising, which leads to more cuts . . . which maintains the cash flow to pay dividends, fund new acquisitions and pay hefty management fees to Fortress Investment Group. Wash, rinse, repeat.

At this rate once-vibrant newspapers in the GateHouse chain won’t be viable within a few years. Community after community will lose essential news-gathering operations and our society will suffer greatly as a result.

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