What happens when a small town loses its local newspaper?
Derek Brouwer, a former Billings Gazette reporter now working for the weekly Missoula Independent, attempts to answer that question in a front-page story published yesterday.
He writes of the demise of the Bigfork Eagle, which went from independent ownership to becoming a property of Lee Enterprises (publisher of the Gazette, the Missoulian and a few other Montana papers) and then of Duane Hagadone, the owner of a regional media conglomerate.
Along the way, Brouwer looks at the venerable Choteau Acantha, a much-respected little paper that has been publishing in Teton County for 123 years. (One of its editors was A.B. Guthrie’s father, and Guthrie worked there as a boy, in the capacity of printer’s devil, a term so old I’m not even sure what it means.)
The article covers a lot of familiar ground—Facebook is the new small-town newspaper, print is nearly obsolete, etc.—but from a purely Montana perspective. One sidebar looks at how Lee Enterprises is trying to beef up its coverage of Eastern Montana, and a second sidebar tells of a handful of Montana journalists, including me, who’ve gone off on their into the brave new world of online journalism.
I learned of the story last night … in a Facebook notification, naturally, and since it had been a few weeks since Derek interviewed me over the phone, at first I thought there had been some kind of mistake, or that someone had dug up a story from last year or the year before.
I suppose that was as much a commentary on modern journalism as on the state of my memory, but it was odd. Anyway, there is much to read in those three pieces, all of which I recommend.
One final note: Derek talked to Sally Finneran, the Bigfork Eagle’s last reporter, who relayed this story: “Two months after the Eagle shut down, Finneran, who now works for a wholesale plant nursery, says she took a call on her cellphone from a former source who wanted to pitch her a story.
“‘Have you realized that it’s not a thing anymore?'” she asked him. “You don’t read it, do you?'”
Only two months? Hell, I still run into people occasionally who say to me, more than two years after I quit the Gazette, more than three years after I stopped writing my City Lights column in the Gazette, “I really enjoy your column in the Gazette.”
I want to say, “Enjoy? As in present tense? I hope you’re kidding!” But I always just say, “Thanks.”