Surprising news was delivered Thursday by the Great Falls Tribune. The Lee Newspapers company is shutting down its State Bureau, meaning that Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson, the state’s two veteran political reporters, are departing, leaving the company. Sources with knowledge of the the decision say Lee employees were told that Chuck and Mike were notified that the state bureau budget was being cut and they were going to have to decide whether they wanted to accept it. In other words, cuts in pay.
Lee is actively seeking graphic artists in Billings. So clearly it’s trying to undo its failed off-shoring of Montana jobs to the Philippines. It’s untangling one terrible decision that angered some business customers, while making another terrible decision that will anger readers. Lee Newspapers will apparently now rely on AP stories and (most likely) Cowgirl blog posts.
It’s shocking news. Johnson thus concludes 43 years of covering state politics and Dennison 13 years. These veteran reporters will be badly missed. Coverage of Montana politics and policy will certainly take a big hit. I almost feel like there has been a sudden death in the family, for it is hard to even imagine the state capitol, and indeed state politics and government, without them. I will be reporting more on this story as it unfolds but this is the third veteran political reporter (John Adams last year) to depart in recent times. If Lee Newspapers thinks it can get by without a political reporter, that’s a depressing sign of the times for the newspaper business. Lee Newspapers is a troubled company that continues to consolidate its papers, with a decided lack of will to put resources into creating in-depth political coverage.
There will be more on this breaking story in the coming days. If nothing else, Mike and Chuck are always welcome to contribute here. That goes for others as well. If Lee Newspapers doesn’t understand the value of a good political reporter, I certainly do. This blog is always open to publishing the work of anyone who can put a few words together and has something of value to say or to report. And that may even include a few conservative viewpoints as well, assuming someone exists who can express them in proper grammar.