Tag Archives: Montana Standard

Double Talk from a Right-Wing Publisher

Montanans have reacted with outrage to the lies being spread by the fake newspapers called the Montana Statesman and the deceptive mailers that arrived on doorsteps courtesy of the American Traditions Partnership.

But the reaction from Randy Rickman, the right-wing publisher of the Helena IR and Montana Standard looks more like jealousy.

Whatever his “reasoning” Rickman has decided to get into the double-talk game himself.

Last month, the Montana Standard and the Helena IR, the Lee Newspapers controlled by right-wing publisher Randy Rickman, sent letters [PDF] to democratic candidates saying they “decided not to endorse the statewide offices this year.”

This week however the Montana Standard endorsed Steve Daines for Congress.  

The letter reads:

Dear candidate:

The Helena Independent Record and the Montana Standard editorial boards has decided not to endorse the statewide candidate offices this year. However, we are going to provide space starting Sunday, Oct. 7, and going forward to candidates and their opponents to outline their vision and goals if elected. To that end, we would like you to submit a 450-word personal editorial outlining your goals. It will run adjacent to your opponent, but we insist that you not take the space to bash the opposition, rather promote yourself. If you have questions please feel free to contact me. Deadline is by 5 p.m. Wed., Oct. 3. Thanks for your attention to this matter.



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.

Media Quick Hits

A Blow to Good Journalism

On the same day it was announced Mary Junck, Lee CEO, received a $500,000 bonus for taking her company into bankruptcy, Lee Newspapers laid off people in Helena and Butte, KXLH is reporting.

Montana Nutjobs Back in the National Spotlight

Mother Jones today reports on the latest wacky details about GOP gubernatorial candidate Neil Livingstone.  There’s even a great quote from Pogie at Intelligent Discontent.   UPDATE: I don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a taste of what can be found in the article:

In 2005, Roll Call dubbed Livingstone “Deep Mouth,” after it was alleged that he had dined at Dupont Circle’s Palm steakhouse 88 times in a 57-day period. (Livingstone denied the charge, telling the paper that he eats there only about 15 times a month.)

Go read the hilarious piece. Suffice it to say, Livingstone’s candidacy is not doing Montana’s image any favors.

Women are Like Dogs

Livingstone isn’t the only GOP-er hard at work making Montana a national laughingstock this week.  TEA Party Republican Rep. Krayton Kerns is in the news for “comparing Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to a studding English bulldog named “John-Boy.” Yes, really.”  Here’s the story.   Readers may recall that this isn’t the first TEA Party Republican to compare women to animals.  Keith Regier said we’re more like cattle.  Democrat Cole Olsen is campaigning to replace Kerns in the Montana Legislature.

Gazette, Missoulian, IR-Standard, All Acting Like the Oil Spill Never Happened

For a corporation that is on the verge of going bankrupt, you’d think Lee Enterprises might see value in a bit of sexy adversarial journalism, looking at the role of the largest corporation on earth in the worst oil spill in the mountain west, as a way to sell some papers, to get some buzz.

But apparently the parent company of the four major Montana daily papers have decided, instead, to spread its legs wide open.

It is barely three weeks after one of the most important rivers in America was fouled by one of the worst industrial catastrophes in Montana’s history. And yet the four big influential Montana newspapers–all owned and run by the conservative Republican corporation Lee Enterprises, Inc.–have decided to take the payout, and stop covering the oil spill.

This is not the least bit surprising.  In the last week or so, it became very obvious that the Billings Gazette and its sister papers had made a decision to start favoring the Republican talking points, defending Exxon.  Several letters and opinion pieces all appeared simultaneously, as if on cue, all using the same GOP talking points, all praising the hardworking Exxon and its cleanup efforts, all apologizing or explaining away Exxon’s many inexcusable actions in the wake of the spill, all criticizing the Governor, Brian Schweitzer, for being tough with Exxon.

Meanwhile, coverage of the cleanup effort abruptly halted.

And on this Sunday (Sundays traditionally being days when recent news events are given in-depth, reflective journalistic treatment), to look at the Gazette or IR or Standard or Missoulian, you would think that the entire oil spill story is ancient history. The only thing in the Gazette is a tiny mention of an advisory put out by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, telling people to be careful about eating fish from the river.  That’s it.

Nothing about the ongoing cleanup efforts and whether they are sufficient, nothing delving into the events of early July, no analysis of culpability, no in-depth discussion of the damage, nothing looking at the progress (or lack thereof) in reversing the damage, and nothing, to date, assessing Exxon’s misinforming of the public in the immediate aftermath of the spill.

You’d think, from reading the Gazette, that the most pressing issue in Billings is that some local yahoo got a fourth DUI.  With the exception of the you-might-not-want-to-eat-the-fish story in the Gazette, there does not appear to be a single mention of the spill in any of the four Lee-owned papers.  (Ravalli Republic being the fifth, but as they share an editor with the Missoulian, as the IR and Standard share one,  lets call it four.)

This is kind of like the LA Times having no mention of the LA riots, three weeks after they occurred.

The question, naturally, is whether this is due to the fact that the Gazette and its family of Montana papers are run by conservatives, or whether (worse) Exxon has somehow exerted influence on the coverage. I’d bet on the latter.  If you haven’t noticed, Exxon has placed a ton of advertising in the Billings Gazette lately.  God knows how much hush money this all amounts to, but for a corporation whose CEO took home a $400 million bonus a few years ago, a little payola to a disorganized, financially incompetent news organization probably goes a long, long way.

Let’s Just Make Billings the Capital City

As Pogie at Intelligent Discontent writes, the publisher of both the Helena IR and the Montana Standard, Randy Rickman, believes that the newspaper of Montana’s capital city doesn’t need independent editorial oversight – we can just share an editor with Butte.

Rickman’s high quality judgement and lack of political bias should not be doubted.  After all, it was Rickman who realized that the capital city’s newspaper, the Helena IR, has no need  to be a leading source of political news and government information.  It’s either this or that the IR’s publisher either doesn’t want to get into the quicksand of having to actually understand the political and policy issues facing Montana, or perhaps he don’t have time (given the urgent market pressures to produce stories about stolen garden gnomes a reporting fad from eight years ago, cat-finding beagles, and who could forget the groundbreaking investigative journalism that found “Loud Pop Caused by Fireworks.”)

Independent editorial management and oversight?  What’s the point when you can just run press releases verbatim from the Montana Constitution Party. Or is it that without an editor, Rickman will find it easier to enforce his own political bent on the paper, something that will no doubt please the Congressman Rehbergs of the world.

It’s really an embarrassment to Helena.

All indications are that Montana’s capital city just isn’t that important – at least it is not as important as it used to be.  Perhaps we should just get it over with and make Billings the capital city of Montana.  At least Billings has its own newspaper.