MISSOULA – A rally in support of the Missoula Independent gathered a large crowd that spoke out against closing the weekly newspaper while also supporting the paper’s union, the Missoula News Guild.
Indy staff woke up Tuesday morning without a job — the doors were locked and 30 years of archives apparently unavailable. Their Iowa-based owners Lee Enterprises unexpectedly announced the paper was closed for good after buying it just 18 months ago.
Dozens gathered to express their outrage with some people voiced their concerns over the impact this will have on an informed community.
“Whoever controls the flow of information controls policy, and controls what our citizens can learn to make educated choices. I think having local media, local control, is vital to democracy,” said Debra Orozco, an Indy supporter.
“I think the biggest thing is — when you have a corporation like this come in — you’re losing your community, like the way that we talk to each other. It’s special and the corporation doesn’t see that,” said Indy supporter Raven Davis. “You just tear down something and put something else that is more profitable, but profitable doesn’t mean that its right.”
The Missoula Independent has been known for its arts and entertainment features, stories on local culture and investigative pieces that distinguished the alternative weekly newspaper for nearly 30 years.
Union members say they were in negotiations when the company gave them an ultimatum in late August to lay off 75% of the nine-person staff or the paper would be shut down. Tuesday’s closure came as a shock to staff and supporters alike.
Also well represented at Tuesday’s rally were people who support unions and worker’s rights; they say that Lee Enterprises hasn’t heard the last of them yet.
Union organizer Mark Anderlik does not represent the Independent staff who organized the Missoula News Guild earlier this year, but he and other union supporters are watching this situation closely.
“It is completely outrageous, it’s not bargaining in good faith, I think it’s against the law — against the National Labor Relations Act. And even more so it violates the spirit in which the workers organized and were negotiating,” he said.
A statewide union group that works with almost 40 unions and 50,000 families statewide is outraged at how Indy staff are being treated. The Montana AFL/CIO issued the following statement in reaction to Tuesday’s closure of the Missoula Independent:
“The decision by Lee Enterprises to shutter the Missoula Independent is beyond reprehensible. Lee Enterprises clearly has a limited sense of loyalty to the fine people who deliver Montana’s news day in and day out for the people. Furthermore, Lee’s decision to close the Missoula Independent after its staff recently voted to organize is a blatant and transparent attack on workers’ rights and an attempt to intimidate their other employees throughout the state.”
As part of the rally, groups discussed how they would move forward to push for the company to change their decision or find alternate ownership of the Independent.
Reporting by Augusta McDonnell for MTN News