Lee Enterprises closes Missoula Independent alt-weekly paper

    Protest at Missoulian after Lee Enterprises closes the Missoula Independent

    Lee Enterprises has shut down the Missoula Independent nearly 1 1/2 years after buying the alternative weekly newspaper.

    The following letter was sent to employees to the Missoula Independent on the morning of Sept. 11.

    Lee Regional Human Relations Director Jim Gaasterland told Independent staff in a message Tuesday the company closed the newspaper that day and to schedule an appointment to retrieve any personal belongings.

    Derek Brouwer, a staff reporter for the Missoula Independent, expressed his frustration with the closure of the alternative weekly paper.

    “My very first reaction was frustration that the cover story I’ve been working on all weekend and up until 12:30 last night wouldn’t get to run in a paper this week. I was excited for that story. And beyond that I think it was deep, deep sadness at what’s happening to both the staff that I work with today and the community at large,” said Brouwer. “It’s not a fun day for any of us but I hope that something will fill the void that Lee Enterprises has created today.”

    Brouwer said he missed a call from Lee Enterprises at 7:30 Tuesday morning and then found out about the closure when he read his email.

    Lee bought the Independent in April 2017 from owner Matt Gibson, who after the sale became the general manager for the Lee-owned Missoulian, Ravalli Republic and Independent.

    Gibson said in a story posted by the Missoulian Tuesday that the Independent was losing money and was not financially sustainable.

    The Independent's staff unionized in April. The union, Missoula News Guild, said it rejected an Aug. 30 Lee proposal to cut three-quarters of the alt-weekly's staff.

    “We feared that his might happen and that’s why we went to the community a couple weeks ago and told them to speak up on behalf of us and they did and we’ve been overwhelmed by that support but unfortunately the company wasn’t persuaded by that show of support and has made what I think is a thoughtless and unnecessary decision that will hurt Missoula,” said Brouwer.

    The community is showing support in one more way Tuesday evening with demonstrations outside the Missoulian. NBC Montana was told the employees are not involved in the demonstrations and that it’s all a community response.

    The Missoulian reports that the Independent began publishing in 1991 and was distributed across three western Montana counties. Brouwer said they reached tens of thousands of people each week both online and in print. He said the staff took a lot of pride in the fact that it was a free publication and they were working to better inform the community.

    “I also think that we’ve been a source of important and investigative and in depth reporting that other outlets aren’t able to do and I’m not sure who will step in to do that now,” said Brouwer.

    Brouwer said as far as he knows, this is a permanent shutdown.

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