Lee Enterprises, the corporate parent company of the Corvallis Gazette-Times, the Albany Democrat-Herald, and the Lebanon Express, abruptly closed their Missoula Montana alt weekly, the Missoula Independent last month amid union negotiations. Lee also owns the daily paper in Missoula, and this is not their first trouble with unions in that community.
When he was Editor for Lee Enterprises at the daily Missoulan back in 2005, current Corvallis Gazette-Times editor Mike McInallly was accused of interfering with unionization.
As past Missoulan reporter Robert Struckman, later writing for Dissent Magazine, tells it, “My editor, Mike McInally at the Missoulian in Missoula, Montana, called me into his office one day in 2005 and asked me to close the door. He said that if he ever got wind of union talk from me again—anything at all—he’d fire me.” Struckman now reports working for the AFL-CIO as a Senior Speechwriter and Editor.
In response to Struckman’s assertions, McInally told The Advocate, “Bob Struckman and I have very different recollections of that encounter. I don’t recall ever saying anything like that.”
Lee had only just purchased the decades old alt weekly in April of 2017, but corporate consolidation of local news is nothing new. Just look no further than the dailies in Corvallis, Albany and Lebanon. The corporate shuttering of competitive alt-weeklies is not unheard of either, as is evidenced by the unfortunate fates of the Baltimore City Paper and Knoxville’s Metro Pulse. The latter was even still turning a small profit at the time of its demise. Specifically in the media industry, these kinds of absorptions of competition are as frequent as the rain.
In the instance of the Indy, Lee closed it so suddenly that staff showed up to work one morning only to be met with locked doors.
Despite having a monthly budget in the red, the staff at the alt-weekly had decided to unionize in April. Staff writer Derek Brouwer told Spokane’s Inlander that he believed that unionization would help to heal the public’s newfound distrust of the once beloved paper due to corporate acquisition. The closure came in the midst of (somewhat) heated negotiations between the union and the news behemoth regarding staffing cuts, and the relocation of the Indy offices into the Missoulian headquarters.
The paper’s online archives were also purged from existence, which makes seeking new work more difficult for reporters, generally speaking.
By Jay Sharpe