MT scuttlebutt: Lee Enterprises to shutter Helena bureau. @UMJSchool
— Larry Abramson (@abramsonwrites) May 21, 2015
University of Montana j-school dean and former NPR reporter Larry Abramson was one of the first to tweet the news Thursday about Lee Enterprises closing its Montana state bureau, which serves newspapers in Billings, Missoula, Helena, Butte and Hamilton. I’m told the Billings Gazette newsroom learned of the bureau closing through Abramson and that staffers were called into an all-hands meeting five minutes after his tweet was posted.
The announcement is so big in the state that it’s on the front page of today’s Gannett-owned Great Falls Tribune. Its editor, Jim Strauss, says “the loss of the Lee Bureau is a hit to the watchdog role of Montana media.”
My sources say veteran Lee political reporters Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison were told by Billings Gazette editor Darrell Ehrlick that they had a choice of a 40% pay cut or a buyout. The men chose the latter. (I’ve asked Ehrlick to comment.)
Ehrlick told a Montana Television Network reporter that Lee is changing the way it does state coverage, and that instead of focusing on state government and politicians, it will look at news on an “issue and regional level.”
A Montana journalist writes me in an email: “Utterly pissed about this and concerned about what this means for political coverage in a state where they [Johnson and Dennison] were essentially the only ones reporting.”