Posted: September 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm

Questions at the IR

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.

32 comments

  1. larry kurtz

    Disclosure: i own stock in Lee.

    What might cause the relationship between isolation and corruption, the researchers asked. One possibility was that newspapers, which provide most coverage of state governments, may be less likely to cover the capital when it is further from their circulation areas. So they examined the content of 436 U.S. newspapers, searching for references to state government. Sure enough, “in states where the population is more concentrated around the capital,” the study found “more intense media coverage of state politics, and therefore greater accountability.”

  2. Sam_R3

    larry makes a good point. it’s a bigger problem for democracy if a capitol city has a bad newspaper than other cities. we already get very little political coverage from the IR, and it sounds like that minute coverage could be about to go down in quality too. the opinion page and newspaper editorials should serve to inform our democracy, not to manipulate it.

  3. Jeremy

    The IR should revamp and move forward with a stronger digital footprint, restricting the frequency of print editions. For older folks who may not be as computer savvy, a great deal at least know how to check email and can sign up for a PDF version by direct email or some other form. Even my 98-year-old grandmother knows how to do that.

    The old business model for newspapers and even television news is dead and those who do not reinvent themselves and innovate will die. Even the top dailies are not without their fair share of financial headaches. I believe the main key is producing top-quality accountability journalism, and incorporating more multimedia. But it has to be exceptional quality. And that means, yes, they will have to cover the capitol a lot more, and with more in-depth stories that do more than scratch the surface.

    Also, developing mobile apps for phones and iPad apps for the IR brand is a must. And they are relatively easy to develop.

    • James Conner

      If the IR goes the way the New Orleans Times-Picayune has gone, you won’t like the result: three print editions a week, and a dumbed down website with a hideous design.

      If a newspaper does go all digital, you won’t be getting a PDF of the printed paper. There’ll be no need for one. Eventually, everything will be online and sold by the story, with easy copying disabled.

  4. Randy Rickman

    Thanks for all the attention; you’ve earned yourself a tin-foil hat based on the conspiracy theories you’ve outlined in your column. I’ll start from the top and clarify some lingering questions that left your readers hanging.
    The editorial last Sunday was part of an effort to help folks understand the importance of newspapers and the vast audience we reach. Larry Kurtz and other’s have it right; strong newspapers hold governments accountable and so we especially need a strong paper in the capital city. The way the content is delivered is changing and is dictated by the audience but be assured, they want credible information and that’s what we provide better than anyone.
    Our former managing editor, Butch Larcombe gave notice and moved to a new job outside of our industry. We completed a search, interviewed and will hopefully make an offer yet this week to a well-qualified editor candidate. If all goes well, we’ll make that announcement early next week.
    It is true that John Harrington gave notice because of another job he has taken outside our industry. As you know, he has been a great contributor to our newspaper and the community. We’ll wait for the new editor to arrive before deciding how we will replace John’s position.
    And Alana Listoe gave notice the same day as John. She has also taken a new job outside our industry. We have had tremendous response for this position as well.
    I do agree that they are three great people and have been big contributors to our success but I wouldn’t say they “jumped ship”. We’ve had tremendous response for all three positions but have intentionally slowed the replacement process. It’s a rare opportunity for three positions to open at the same time and even rarer for two to be key editor positions. We owed it to ourselves to step back and look at our changing environment, content needs in print and online, what categories of news we do well with and categories we need to improve. We’ll put these resources where we can end up with the most relevant, locally produced content.
    Our community members of the editorial board are usually rotated every year or every two years so the timing is appropriate for that change as well. After we fill the positions listed above we’ll ask for more help from the community in the form of community board members or something all-together different. That being said, community members of the editorial board are there to offer their perspective on a subject but not to make final decisions on the newspapers position or how we run our business. Any notion that their role on the editorial board is more than that is an assumption or someone’s vivid imagination.
    Regarding endorsements; we carefully decide on who we endorse and will make our decision only after we meet with the candidates. We take endorsements very serious because we get more access to candidates than most. We hope voters will review our endorsement along with their other information and step into the voter’s booth with knowledge.
    And finally, honcho’s from the corporate office do not make editorial decisions in Helena, Butte, Billings or Missoula. Those decisions are made locally.

    • Jan Thomas

      Interesting that he admits making editorial board member replacements right before the election and attempts to justify a potential lack of involvement by community ed board members in political endorsements. Can’t be a good sign.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      “It’s a rare opportunity for three positions to open at the same time and even rarer for two to be key editor positions.”

      Not so. How bout SIX positions at the GF Spitoon all at once?! Including Moseman, Babcock, Towne, and three other long time key people! Forced out! Early retirement my ass! They were forced out.

      Don’t know much about the Insufficient Record, but the GF Spitoon is in the toilet! And that is exactly where it belongs. WITH TURDS! It’s become a gag newspaper. Jimmy straussballs (like mouse balls only smaller) is running it right into the ground! They not only do NOT provide any sort of public service, but they are actually a DISSERVICE. No one here in GF wants to read rightwing shit ALL the time! And that’s all straussballs seems to want to print!

      The corporate office has jimmy by the straussballs! And it shows! Kinda hard to believe that your situation is much different.

      • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

        You paper is nutless, Rickman. Link to ONE courageous editorial that your paper has printed since your tenure there. And don’t EVEN use that anti-abortion horseshit! Keep your f*cking religious beliefs to yourself! Nobody other than the OTHER crhistofascist nutjobs GIVES two shits!

        The copper collar is gone, replaced by the KOCKH collar!

    • Ely from Culbertson

      Is this real? If so it is a little weird that a newspaper publisher would be making blog comments–no offense to this blog of course, just don’t know that I’ve seen something like this before–if it’s real.

  5. Gabby Johnson

    The whole sports staff left the Butte Standard after their well-respected, 30-plus year veteran sports editor, Bruce Saylor, was forced out.
    Happily for sports-crazy Butte, they’re all now at http://buttesports.com and putting out a better product than Lee Enterprises ever could manage.

  6. rls4568

    I am reminded when reading Mr. Ringer’s comments of the line in Animal House; “be calm…ALL IS WELL”

    • Dan T.

      He admitted switching out his Editorial boards right before candidate endosement time-I don’t think he’s gonna get much sympathy anywhere.

  7. Polecat1945

    Like many news originators, Lee Enterprises is in bankruptcy — though Warren Buffet has bought some of their stock. Economically, the print media con no longer compete against television and the internet. When the print media fail, America will have lost its single most important source of information. No one is out there to replace it, except perhaps Fox news, the Fair and Balanced Twist and Shout Network. The lack of a reliable source of good information is perhaps America’s greatest threat.

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      They did it to themselves, Polecat. What are we supposed to do to help them out? I, personally, refues to spend a buck a day for righwing shit! I agree with what you say, but this has been a long, slow process. It started many years ago with consolidation of all media. Now, the damage just can’t be undone.

      Take a look at the GF Spitoon editorial page. It consists ENTIRELY of rightwing think tank shit. The heritage foundation, cato, etc. And now, nutless wonder jimmy straussballs has added ex-military lifer, fly, maggot, gubmint titsucker snuffy smith!
      And here’s the kicker. There is NO rebuttal allowed!

      We were recently treated to an ed by Rick “tirade” Tryon. Well, a rebuttal was allowed. THEN, in violation of their OWN policy, rick was allowed ANOTHER rebuttal to the rebuttal to again present his tirade! You see, it SAYS right on the page “one letter every sixty days”. But if you’re a rightwinger, rules need not apply!

      I say good riddance to the Spitoon. The sooner it’s gone the better. It died for lack of nuts! There was nothing courageous about it. And the folks there realized that IF they didn’t have their noses up the corporate ass, their jobs were gone! So they willingly inserted nose before writing! Just as Rickman does!

      Yes, it is a sad state of affairs. I hate to see anyone lose their jobs, but I could NOT in good conscience work for such a shoddy shitty corporate outfit like the GF Spitoon. Hell, even I have more self-respect than that! And that ain’t sayin’ much!

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  9. rls4568

    After reading Butte Gal’s last, I hit the link to find that Rickman is nothing more than a glorified advertising salesman. It is enlighting to hit the link for the last newspaper he worked for. Not a single pro-demo opinion to be found in that rag. I would be interested to know what happened with circulation numbers at the last paper he worked for.
    http://www.hanfordsentinel.com/news/opinion/todays_opinions/

  10. rls4568

    I wonder why a bankrupt news organization ( figurative & literal this time ) would feel that they have money enough to do their own polls on every race?

  11. larry kurtz

    Lee of Montana enjoyed a virtual monopoly on content for many decades: it’s solvency helped to buoy a bankruptcy at the parent level as it sought to make applesauce rather than condemn the whole barrel.

    The poll may have done more to reinforce its business decisions and prove its worth to corporate as much as it did to predict a future market.

    Montana may, in fact, be doomed to red state failure as described by that poll.

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  13. S. Brant

    I’ve known Randy for several years and he is a very well respected and is a good ethical and moral individual. He has done alot for the Helena community both in fundraising and growing the IR. i have much respect for this great guy and believe that people should get to know him before passing negative judgement!

  14. Ex-IR employee

    Don’t mess with Rickman he carries a big stick up his arse and pulls it out when people threaten his position! Best not to rub him the wrong way or he’ll use it tobring you down like he did to a many people that were pushed out under his regime!!!

    • Larry Kralj, Environmental Rangers

      Well of COURSE little rickmoan likes a big stick up his ass! bwhahahahahaha!
      Hey, Rickmoan stick-up-ass dude, BRING ME DOWN!

      BWHWHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHA!

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