A series of strange occurrences at the Helena IR in recent days.
First, a bizarre editorial was penned Sunday by the paper’s CEO, suggesting that the very existence of the newspaper may be in doubt.
Randy Rickman, the paper’s boss, wrote that “rumors of our demise have been greatly exaggerated,” but that “if the Independent Record is dying, it will never have had a better audience to watch its demise than today.”
The job of Managing Editor was posted in the help wanted section of the newspaper. (Perhaps I’ll apply.) And other top staff are rumored to be jumping ship, including Business reporter and Opinion Page editor John Harrington.
No doubt it’s a tough job running a print newspaper nowadays, as print editions which sell for $1.00 are fast becoming dinosaurs that drain money. Once upon a time if you were a newspaper baron, ink-by-the-barrel was something to be proud of having under your control. Today, it’s nothing more than a dark, wet and heavy financial burden, weighing down companies like Lee Newspapers as they desperately try to find a way to monetize digital content which most people simply read for free. I don’t envy them.
There had been talk in the media world, not long ago, that single-newspaper towns would be immune from the financial difficulties being faced by national papers. The theory was that if you run a newspaper in a one-newspaper town, you have a natural monopoly and can’t lose. But judging by Rickman’s editorial board and other shakeups recently at Lee Newspapers, Inc., it appears monopoly status no longer guarantees success or even survival. Or perhaps Helena is not big enough to impart this monopoly advantage to the IR.
Even though Rickman is an anti-choice Republican and is employed by a historically Republican company, I do wish the newspaper well. It might require new management and a new philosophy (such as covering news, rather than ignoring it, and such as jumping on stories, rather than sitting around and letting a bunch of two-bit blogs beat you to the punch), but I am hopeful the IR will be around many years longer.
However, there’s another dark cloud over at the IR that concerns me. I’ve been told that the departure of several members of the editorial board is imminent. This timing would be questionable, given Lee Newspapers’ conservative bent. The IR’s (newly women-free?) editorial board is due to make political endorsements soon. There have also been rumblings that the IR and its sister papers, the Missoulian and Butte’s Montana Standard, may be planning to make endorsements with no input from their community ed board members. A source at the IR would neither confirm or deny the information.
So is Rickman, or some corporate honcho, putting the fix in for candidates like Hill, Rehberg et al? Certainly Rickman and his company have used his perch to deliver pure political advocacy in the past (like when he ran a virulent anti-choice column).
I hope it’s not the case. It’d be bad for business, among other things.