Back then I reported on How Many People in Montana Read Newspapers and gave you lots of numbers on readership and company finances.
I encourage you to give that article a look if you haven’t already.
And while losing 51% of your company’s value in 3 years is certainly bad, it’s nothing in comparison to what they’ve already suffered.
In 2004 Lee’s stock was trading at $46.
What a fall indeed.
We’ll talk about those finances and those falls in this post, as well as the recent round of staff cuts and changes to our Montana newspapers.
Hang on - it could get bumpy.
Pioneer News Group owns both the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and the Belgrade News.
It’s a privately owned company run by the Scripps Family, so we can’t get any information on their finances.
Those finances must not be good, however, if we go by what Dietrich is saying.
He was a reporter at the Chronicle from 2014 until just last week.
He talks about all this in a blog post he put up on a platform called Tiny Letter. The post is called What’s Wrong with the Media Anyways and appeared yesterday.
In that post he mentions that there’s “a crisis of economics and a crisis of trust” in our newspaper industry, and these “have devastated American journalism the past couple decades, local newspapers in particular.”
Our look at Lee Newspaper’s finances makes that clear.
And while we can’t dig into the finances of Pioneer News Group, as we mentioned, we can get an idea of how hard they’ve been hit. Here’s what Dietrich tells us:
“When I started at the Chronicle in late 2014, its parent company Pioneer News Group had weekly satellite papers in West Yellowstone, Big Sky and Belgrade. Of those three, only the Belgrade News is still publishing, its offices relocated to the Chronicle building in Bozeman. While the Chronicle’s dozen-person newsroom serves one of the fastest-growing small cities in the nation, the last year has seen it shrink by the equivalent of two-and-half full-time positions.*
*By my count. Includes part-time outdoor editor and entertainment reporter positions that no longer exist, a county/politics reporter who now splits his time with the Belgrade News and a police/courts reporter who was promoted to city editor while maintaining responsibility for the crime beat.
I’ve spent not quite four years in Montana journalism, split between two newsrooms, and have already lost track of how many times I’ve seen my workplaces subjected to benefit cuts, unfilled vacancies or outright layoffs. I’ve watched veteran colleagues leave jobs where they’ve invested heart and soul, concluding they simply can’t support a family on newsroom salaries. I’ve watched promising young journalists sour on the industry, retreating in frustration to other careers. I look around Montana's media corps, at 27 years old, and feel like a survivor.”
Dietrich is taking a break from the newspaper business. He’ll be travelling around the state for awhile.
Perhaps he’ll join up with some of the other newspaper reporters that have been fired, laid-off, or plain ol’ quit over the past few years.
There’s always been talk that these reporters will get together and start a truly, independent news website that’ll challenge the major newspapers.
On top of that it’ll be profitable, at least enough for them to keep a semblance of their former lifestyles.
What are reporters being paid today? I’m sure the starting salaries are around $20,000 and from what Dietrich says, benefits could be fleeting.
I know for a fact that local TV reporters here in Missoula don’t get health insurance, for instance, and that’s because one of them told me that.
Still, for many of us making around $15,000 a year, that $20,000 salary sounds nice.
So there’ll always be young, eager individuals that’ll jump at those jobs.
Kind of perpetuates the vicious cycle that our newspapers are in.
The other bit of news comes to us from Lee Newspapers reporter Jayme Fraser.
Seems her job is changing.
As you might know, she and Holly Michels - both of whom were hired in the wake of the Johnson/Dennison firings - were ‘roving’ reporters that went around and dug up stories in far-flung places.
That will now be over.
“My job is changing,” she wrote last night on Twitter. “I'll soon be Missoulian education reporter, only doing statewide projects in the summer.”
She gives us more insight on her Facebook page:
“Over the last two years, I have driven nearly 30,000 miles across Montana as I reported on state policies, politics and people.
I lived in Helena for four months this year to cover my second Montana legislative session, chasing lawmakers from hearing rooms to literal closets as they brokered deals to cut state spending. Many days, I started before sunrise and finished long after sunset.
Now, I will work on statewide projects in the summer. For the other nine months, I will shift into a new role as the Missoulian’s education reporter.
While disappointing, this also is exciting for me. I have dabbled in education reporting over the years, but never had the chance to focus on it as intently as I have other areas of policy and government.”
And there you have it.
Staff changes and shake-ups. I don’t see these moves as making the state better. It’ll probably make it worse.
And there’ll be more cuts down the road.
I don’t know when, just that they will happen.
There have been so many staff changes at all the major Montana newspapers over the past few years that I can’t keep track of them all.
It’s not just reporters, either - editors and publishers come and go like crazy too.
When will it end...or will it?
I don’t think my reading habits are going to change anytime soon. I don’t have any newspaper subscriptions in this state, and if I use up my 10 free articles a month, I’ll just read the exact same story on another site (it’s all copy/paste, anyways).
On top of that the local TV news sites have the same stories most of the time.
What I notice when I go to the Historical Society and get into the filing cabinets is that newspaper articles from the 80s and 90s were very detailed.
These people really dug into their stories, and I just don’t see that as much anymore. A lot of the time we just have the AP telling us what’s going on in Montana.
Let’s not forget the role of Montana Public Radio, and how many problems they’re having as well.
And let’s also not forget for one second that the Montana blogs would not be able to function without the local reporters.
It’s their stories that we’re basing our stories off of, for goodness sake!
So when newspaper shake-ups occur like we saw occur last night, we all suffer.
What’s especially sad is that in another 5 months or so I’ll be writing yet another story just like this one.