New Montana News Service Debuts Next Week
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Lee Newspaper’s State Government Bureau Chief, Holly Michels, has provided comprehensive coverage of government and politics since 2015. We regret the original omission.
A new statewide, online news service is preparing to launch just in time for the start of Montana’s 67th legislative session. The fledgling non-profit project is called The Daily Montanan.
It’s helmed by former Billings Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlick.
According to a press release issued this week, it will keep tabs on statewide politics, government, education, healthcare, the environment, justice and energy issues. It will simultaneously feature, "a robust, curated collection of commentators and newsmakers for engaging opinions."
The Daily Montanan is an affiliate of North Carolina-based States Newsroom.
Lee Banville tracks news media in the state as a University of Montana journalism professor.
‘There are lots of states that are losing coverage of state government and cutting state bureaus at the Capitol and things like that. This nonprofit tries to fill that gap in states around the country.”
The website will be reader-supported without paywalls and the content will be free to republish throughout the state.
Five years ago, Lee Newspapers, which owns five of Montana’s largest dailies, announced it was closing its state bureau, a move greeted with widespread criticism. However, shortly after that announcement, Lee hired reporter Holly Michels to staff its State Bureau. Michels has provided statewide coverage of government and politics ever since. Earlier this month Lee announced it’s reinvigorating its Helena office by hiring a group of seasoned reporters to cover state government. Michels now leads that team.
Lee Banville says he can’t help but wonder if that decision to bolster the company’s state bureau was spurred by the new Daily Montanan project.
“I think this is them protecting turf by adding more reporters and more capacity at the Capitol. Frankly, for news consumers, it's really actually great news because you're now going to have a beefed-up statewide newspaper network covering the state," Lee says.
"You're going to have this new nonprofit covering the state, and you'll still have the Montana Free Press covering it.”
Banville is skeptical all that beefed-up coverage will influence lawmakers’ decisions or lead to more opportunities for public participation. But he adds,
“As an advocate for transparency, I think it's never a bad thing to have more people watching."
The Daily Montanan launches January 5th