Over the years, the staff of the Indy has given me plenty of terrific moments, but none more gratifying than these last few days, as I've watched them go from shock to anxiety to what I'd describe as a cautious maturity toward the sale of the paper. It's going to take some courage and trust on everybody's part to move forward, and I've been really impressed with how quickly the crew here assessed the situation, set aside their legitimate fears, and got down to business.
And that business is providing western Montana with a weekly paper that captures life here with smart, stylish reporting that matters.
Since I bought the paper in 1997, I have become even more deeply committed to the work we do. By telling compelling true stories about our neighbors, we help our readers understand each other a little better. And with that understanding, we're better prepared to face the challenges of living together as a community. If we don't know what others think and experience, we have no chance of finding the common ground necessary to make social choices.
When we do our work well, people can end up caring about things they'd never thought about and appreciating people that might otherwise seem incomprehensibly strange. It occurs almost by accident in the course of searching out the stories that might interest you. We're really just trying to create a vivid impression of the world, and it just sort of happens that we discover each other along the way. I find that process utterly profound, regardless of practical results—the policy outcomes, personal achievements or business failures. It's all holy communion to me.
And advertising makes it all go. More than half the people working here at the Indy focus their energy on the paying customers, striving to maintain an effective platform for other businesses to promote their goods and services. That work has become increasingly challenging, not necessarily because we've grown weaker, but because Google, Facebook and Amazon have become some of the largest businesses on Earth, capturing a grossly disproportionate share of ad revenue and forcing local merchandisers to compete with international discounters. They're undermining our business without having even a token local presence or creating any original substance.
- photo by Sarah Daisy Lindmark
It's hard to imagine what could stop that train from running us over.
The Indy reaches as many readers as it ever did, and I think our overall operation runs as well as it ever has. Print advertising still works very effectively. But we're losing ground, like virtually all traditional media. To compete in the digital realm, we need a leg up, and the partner that makes the most sense is Lee Enterprises, parent company of the Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic. As one of the largest newspaper publishers in America, Lee's got the resources to make a credible stand. And by joining arms, we can better sustain our work here in Missoula for a lot longer than either of us can do it alone.
I know suspicion of Lee comes easily to a lot of Montanans, and some of that is understandable. Lee has a long, prominent history here. It's not all glorious. (Neither is the Indy's.) But there are plenty of high-quality people working there, trying to do it right, day in and day out. I'll be proud to be one of them, and I hope the rest of the crew here will feel the same way.
And the work—telling true stories about the lives we're all living—has become more important than ever. Powerful forces promoting ignorance have shocked us all with their shameless and stunningly potent attacks on truth, decency and the profession of journalism itself. Our world, from Moscow to Washington, D.C, to Missoula, is teeming with corrupt interests bent on preventing you from learning what your neighbors are really like or letting your neighbors better understand you. Their cynical lies threaten to reduce our democratic institutions to brutish contests of manipulation and coercion.
The Indy's work, Lee's work, the committed work of conscientious journalists everywhere is the antidote to that poison. I don't see any rival teams among those who share our professional commitments.
Circumstance has brought the Indy face to face with what will likely be remembered as one of the epic struggles of the era. A lot of tough, smart, talented people will need to come together to steady the bulwark around local journalism. The struggle will not be injury free. But success will make Missoula's newspapers better and enrich our community for generations to come.