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As media types cast their collective gaze back at 2005’s major stories in an effort to reflect on the year and fill space in a slow news week, it’s easy to gloss over the news the news business itself made. But 2005 was a big year in media, both locally and nationally, with impacts that affect readers far and wide.

Nationally, we couldn’t help but take notice of the steady drumbeat of media consolidation, especially when it spread into the alternative weekly world in a major way. The merger proposed in October between New York City-based Village Voice Media and the Phoenix-Ariz.-based New Times chain would create a 17-paper alt-weekly chain that would account for a combined quarter of the national circulation of all alt weeklies currently publishing. Though the U.S. Department of Justice has signed off on the deal, in early December the Ohio Attorney General’s office announced it was looking into whether the move violates antitrust rules and a consent decree the two companies signed in 2003 after being busted for conspiring to shut down papers in competing markets. Aside from concerns about legality, the merger raises worries about declining competition among the nation’s alt weeklies, which have largely maintained their independence (the paper you’re holding in your hands, for instance) even as ownership of daily newspapers becomes increasingly concentrated.

Speaking of which, in 2005 Missoulian parent Lee Enterprises became the fourth-largest newspaper publisher in the nation with its $1.46 billion purchase of Pulitzer Inc., swelling Lee’s holdings to 58 newspapers with a combined 1.7 million in daily circulation. Though the acquisition isn’t known to have immediately affected Missoula’s daily, the November departure of editor Mike McInally (who took a job as publisher of Lee’s Corvallis (Ore.) Gazette-Times and was promptly replaced by longtime reporter and city editor Sherry Devlin) certainly did.

Enough, though, about chains and would-be chains. We were happy to see local, independent media springing up and thriving, providing readers more, not fewer media choices. The debut of the glossy, free, Outside Missoula magazine lights up the city’s sights in a way that newsprint just plain can’t, and two other new free periodicals, Three Rivers Lifestyle Magazine and the Clark Fork Journal, add to the newsstand mix as well.

Print world aside, the Missoula-based New West online network has grown since its February inception and founder Jonathan Weber says a pilot print issue is scheduled for fall 2006. Radio has seen a similar explosion this year, with Mount Sentinel Broadcasting adding three new stations to the waves, including local news and progressive talk station KKNS.

What the changes all add up to, locally anyhow, is more competition, and more options for you. All the more reason for us, in 2006, to keep doing what we’ve always done: our best to give you a newspaper you can’t get anywhere else.

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