Hi, Missoula Independent readers. We’re the Missoula News Guild, representing all of the non-management workers at the Indy, and we’re asking you for your help. Our good friend and Indy columnist Dan Brooks is here to explain a little about our situation. Check out the video below. Don’t worry, if you can’t spare the minute, we’ll sum it up for you below.
Gosh, Dan, thank you.
If you didn’t watch, the important part is this: Lee has offered to 1) eliminate most of our non-management staff by outsourcing all functions besides reporting, leaving as few as one and one-half positions, or 2) shut down the Independent.
The company has not yet tried to explore 3) literally anything else. If those first two options aren’t acceptable to you as an Indy reader or advertiser, we need you to speak up today.
Here’s how you can help:
- Show your support for the Indy on social media with a post (or even better, video of yourself) explaining why you read or advertise. Tag your post using #KeepMissoulaIndy. This shows Lee you’re paying attention, and they’ll have to answer to you.
- Print out and display our #KeepMissoulaIndy window card so that management and ownership sees your support when they’re out in Missoula.
- Shop local coupons on the Indy’s iDEAL$ site to support us and our great advertisers.
- Become an advertiser, and if you already are, consider extending your contract to show your support.
- Attend our solidarity event, on Sept. 7, 7-9:30 p.m. at the Union Club to talk with staffers about the Union so we can meet more of you. RSVP on Facebook.
- Send a letter to the editor to the Indy and the Missoulian so even more readers will know about what’s going on and see how we are supported.
- Sign up for our mailing list and follow us on Twitter and Facebook to stay updated on union news, events and calls to action.
Still want to know more? Well, we’ve got answers in the FAQ below. And don’t hesitate to get in touch if you want to talk.
What’s going on?
Lee Enterprises has proposed to cut the Indy to the bone, doing away with its sales, production and events departments and reducing the newsroom by up to half its present size. That’s the company’s position as our staff union tries to negotiate a first contract. If we don’t agree to those cuts, negotiators from Iowa say they may shut the paper down.
Wait, what’s the backstory here?
Lee Enterprises, the corporation that owns the Missoulian and other papers around the country, bought the Independent in April 2017. In April, we, the non-management staff, unanimously formed a union to advocate on behalf of the employees and the paper. Now we’re at the bargaining table, which basically means we sit in a conference room across from Lee’s corporate HR reps and try to hash out, in good-faith, a contract governing wages and working conditions.
What’d you demand?
We asked for some improved benefits, such as being able to cash out unused paid-time off, which we are generally too busy to use up. But the centerpiece of our proposal addressed our stated purpose for organizing: to keep the Indy independent. We asked the company to agree not to merge the Indy’s sales, design, events, or newsroom functions into the Missoulian or outsource them to an out-of-state facility.
What’d they say to that?
Lee’s current offer is to outsource all functions except the newsroom, and lay off up to two reporters (leaving the paper with one), or else the company may shut the paper down. The proposal would reduce union-eligible staff from 10 at the time of our unanimous April vote to as few as two staffers. Even then, Lee told us it still might shut the paper down.
Do they just hate unions, or what?
Lee certainly is no fan of organized labor. The Indy is one of only four unionized Lee papers, out of around 50. But the company’s argument is simple and reasonable: the paper is losing money, and Lee’s shareholders are not interested in investing in a company whose papers lose money.
Wait, the paper’s losing money?
From what we’ve been shown, yes.
How much? Why?
We can’t say, because Lee has only been willing to show us financials under a non-disclosure agreement. Let’s just say the amount is a small fraction of the bonuses Lee execs got last year, which totaled $1.8 million for top five executives. How can the paper stop losing money? We hope to talk more with you and the company in the very near future about specific ideas on that.
But you’re trying to tell the company to keep open a business that’s losing money?
We definitely didn’t tell Lee to buy this rag! This paper clearly has other kinds of value to the company (namely, its ability to deliver a socially engaged, extremely intelligent and ridiculously attractive audience), and we’re eager (excited, even!) to work with Lee to get it into the black. We’ve seen the numbers, and we’re confident it’s possible. But it will take some hard work, creativity and compromise on both sides. Lee’s present bargaining position embodies none of that. In fact, the company hasn’t even tried to show that its outsourcing and layoff proposal would save money. The fact is, Lee has become much more worried about the Indy’s bottom line since we exercised our right to organize.
So what can you do, besides pound your fist on the table?
We need to show Lee that Missoula still values the Indy, that there’s enough enthusiastic support among our advertisers and readers to persuade Lee that it’s in the company’s best interest to figure out how to make the paper viable while keeping it authentic.
But the Indy sucks.
Only sometimes, asshole. We’ve turned mental health budget cuts and homelessness into our beats. We shined a light on the secretive bitcoin mine in Bonner. We exposed problems at a nonprofit veterans home in the Flathead. The national Solutions Journalism Network has funded reporting trips that sent us to Seattle to explore alternatives to soul-sucking nursing homes, Haiti to find thrifty models of delivering mental health care and Vermont to see how others are teaming up to preserve agricultural land. We’ve reviewed just about every microbrew and cocktail in town. We host killer coupons through iDEAL$. We provide the best customer service and ad design to advertising clients. We host community events like Snow Joke Half Marathon, Indy Sip and Feast week.
All that sucks, too.
Now we understand why the Missoulian killed its comments section.
Speaking of the Missoulian website, why is the Indy’s new website so similar? Shouldn’t it look different?
Ah, you’re starting to catch on.
Aren’t you already in the Missoulian building?
Nope! Relocation plans were put on ice once we unionized. But we’re very willing to move to a cheaper, smaller, dingier office to save money.
What can I do to help?
Consider upgrading your ad, or extend your contract. Buy a cheap lunch through iDEAL$. Send letters and emails to the editor. Post on social media under our hashtag, #keepmissoulaindy. Come to our community party at the Union Club on Friday, September 7! We can’t write about this situation in the paper, so we need your help to get the word out.
I’m an advertiser, and back when you unionized, Missoulian general manager and former Indy owner Matt Gibson wrote a letter to me saying it’s a “misperception” that the union gives Indy staff control of your future.
It’s Lee’s world. We just live in it, but the union lets us do things like tell you what’s going on with the paper.
Seriously, though, does Lee really care about what Indy readers think?
Lee may be an out-of-state corporate overlord, but it’s no Melania Trump. Local news companies rely on community trust. Sometimes they need the community to let them know when that trust is on the line. In 2015, Lee cut its respected state bureau to save a little dough. The public outcry was impressive, but, because Lee employees did not have a union, it could only come after the fact. Because the Indy is unionized, Missoulians have a chance to speak up before the company does something stupid. Lee can decide whether to listen.