This may come as a shock to you, but here at the Kaimin, we think newspapers are kind of important.
On Friday, the employees of the Missoula Independent will vote on whether they will form a union. The purchase of the Indy nearly a year ago by Lee Enterprises — which owns the Missoulian and several other papers throughout Montana — has been a regular local talking point since then.
“The Missoula Dependent!” The city cried. “Lost to us forever!” We poured one out for the fate of our city’s trusty little alt-weekly.
Since then, the Indy as we know it has continued to exist. It has continued to deliver important and interesting stories, including an investigation into Bonner’s new bitcoin farm, a look at a homeless shelter in the Flathead that’s failing veteran clients and a history of Missoula’s underground zine scene.
The Indy’s continued success can be credited entirely to its staff, a group of hardworking and talented individuals who better Montana journalism every day. These staffers deserve to protect themselves from corporate influence, and they deserve to have a say in the future of the paper they helped build. A union is the first step in returning control to those who do the work.
If the staffers vote in favor, they will join the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, a media union that represents more than 25,000 employees in news organizations across the country.
Lee Enterprises has declared itself opposed to this movement through a refusal to cover the unionization effort in any of its publications — save a three-paragraph mention on the obituary page of the Missoulian that never made it online — and in a letter sent from Missoulian and Indy general manager Matt Gibson to Indy advertisers that called the effort “naïve and short-sighted” and warned that forming a union would be “creating unnecessary conflict.”
This is the kind of crisis communities are built for; this is what we do. If something matters to Missoula, we have to protect it. We have to fight for it.
We at the Kaimin would like to take this opportunity to say that the Indy matters to us. It’s a place many of our reporters and other journalism students have honed their talents. It’s a distinctive Missoula voice, a Montana institution.
And beyond that, the Indy is a friendly competitor that urges us to be better and faster with our coverage of the University. Its reporters have beaten us to stories and asked smarter questions. We constantly strive to do the same. A competitive news market drives news outlets to be the best at what they do. Support the Indy because it keeps the Kaimin from sucking.
Lee Enterprises owns more than half of the daily newspapers in Montana. That means it has the ability to suppress news of the Indy staff’s efforts and make it harder for you to find out what these efforts mean. Regardless of your stance on unionization, this is unacceptable.
We stand in solidarity with the Missoula News Guild Organizing Committee, and we urge other news outlets and Missoulians to do the same.