United States Project

Until recently, the Missoula Independent was precisely that: a decades-old, independently owned alt-weekly in western Montana whose coverage has often touched on Lee Enterprises, owner of the state’s largest newspaper chain. Earlier this month, however, Lee Enterprises acquired the Indy, which left many wondering whether the alt-weekly could continue its role as a local media watchdog and retain its independent voice. At least one person in Missoula seems doubtful; Indy staff recently found the sign in front of their offices defaced, with the name of the paper adjusted to read “Missoula Independent.”
A Lee Enterprises vice president tells CJR that the alt-weekly will remain editorially separate from The Missoulian, the city’s daily paper. The Missoulian’s editor, Pulitzer Prize-winner Kathy Best, expects the weekly to keep her paper vigilant. “We need somebody who’s going to poke us with a sharp stick,” says Best.
And newsrooms can only be as effective as they are viable. “Looking down the road, I think it’s hard to imagine a little independent weekly in Missoula, Montana, growing,” the Indy’s publisher tells CJR. “So that was the challenge: How can I sustain this over the long haul?”
Still, alt-weeklies often define themselves in opposition to the daily newspapers in their towns—the better to keep reporters for each on their toes, in order to best serve their communities.
Lee Enterprises has made a few promising changes to its statehouse coverage in recent years; meanwhile, an Indy writer tells us of the weekly, “I don’t think the future is set in stone.” Perhaps both papers will find a way to do well together what they once did independent of each other. Read Corey Hutchins’ full story at for more.

While we’re talking Missoula journalism, here’s a bit of trivia: William Finnegan, longtime New Yorker contributor and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Barbarian Days, attended graduate school there. One of Finnegan’s Barbarian Days companions, Bryan DiSalvatore, wrote about the city and his softball team, the Montana Review of Books, for The New Yorker in 1985. And Dan Baum, who wrote last year’s excellent “Legalize It All” feature for Harper’s? He’s a Missoula Independent alum.

Be sure to read these new stories from CJR and correspondents to the United States Project:

  • “The voting public craves honesty and clarity.” The lone Republican who represents Oregon in Congress also heads the committee that shaped the American Health Care Act. Trudy Lieberman covers his town hall appearances and finds that many of his constituents are still unclear about the future of their health coverage.
  • “Whether the magazine was in Seattle, Dallas, or New England, it was suddenly fighting for every penny.” Tony Rehagen examines the uncertain future of city magazines.
  • Can government officials pick and choose which news outlets they give comments and information to? Gwyneth Doland covers a lawsuit filed by a New Mexico alt-weekly against the state’s governor, which could expand the state’s press freedom protections or quash a newspaper-led effort at accountability and transparency.
  • “At BH Media papers, anxiety has perhaps replaced the optimism of five years earlier.” Berkshire Hathaway’s annual reports show a significant decline in daily circulation at each newspaper between 2012 and 2016. BH Media employees who spoke to CJR emphasized the critical value of local news coverage, as well as the need for innovative new revenue streams and a greater digital transition.
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