Staffers at the Missoula Independent newspaper say its parent company, Lee Enterprises, is threatening to gut the alternative weekly. Monday, the paper turned to its readers for help.
The Missoula Independent’s staff unionized earlier this year, making it one of only a handful of union papers now owned by publishing giant Lee Enterprises.
The Independent is in the middle of its first contract negotiations with Lee, which bought the Indy in April of 2017. Indy reporter, Derek Brouwer, says it’s not going well.
"They told us they were thinking about shutting down the paper, and offered an alternative proposal which outsource all functions but the newsroom to the Missoulian and to some of the regional design headquarters that they have, and then reserve the right to lay off up to two reporters in our newsroom. We only have four people in the newsroom, so that’s a pretty substantial cut.”
Management for Lee Enterprises could not be reached for comment.
Brouwer, a member of the paper’s bargaining committee, says staff isn’t asking for higher wages; only a few improved benefits, such as the ability to cash out unused paid time-off.
He says their centerpiece demand is, “To have the company recognize that the Independent holds a distinct place in the media ecosystem here, and to commit in that contract to not outsource those various departments."
Brouwer concedes the Indy is losing money. He says he can’t divulge details due to a non-disclosure agreement.
“The financial situation of the Indy is not so grave that with a commitment to working together to find a viable path forward, that that couldn’t be found.”
The paper has launched a new campaign to urge its supporters to stand up for the Indy by posting on social media with the #KeepMissoulaIndy.
“The best thing you can do is explain why you read the publication. For the paper to really be viable it only makes a difference if the community agrees with us. If they don’t agree with us, or if that support is no longer there, then I would understand why Lee would go the direction it wants to.”
The next bargaining session between Lee and the Missoula Independent is scheduled for later this week.