Lee Enterprises closes Missoula Independent after it unionizes

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.