Newspapers across the Mountain West have faced troubling times recently. There have been layoffs, budget cuts and, on Tuesday morning, Montana’s biggest alternative weekly was abruptly shut down by its parent company.
“So many of my friends lost their jobs today,” Sarah Aswell, a frequent contributor to the Missoula Independent, said. “There’s few opportunities for these kind of jobs in Montana.”
The paper was purchased by Lee Enterprises last year. They own eight major newspapers in the region and dozens in the midwest.
Missoula Independent employees unionized after the paper was sold to Lee and tried to enter contract negotiations last month. But Lee said the alt-weekly was bleeding money. They shuttered it with almost no warning.
The papers’ employees said they were locked out of the building and given one month’s severance pay and benefits.
Around 70 people gathered near downtown Missoula, Montana on Tuesday night to protest the paper’s closure.
Long-time Missoula Independent freelance writer Andy Smetanka was holding a sign that said “Nuts To You, Lee!”
“It’s almost like the death of a relative that you never had a chance to reconcile with,” Smetanka said. “You know, this morning, suddenly yanked out of the picture.”
Lee Enterprises was unable to comment before deadline.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.