The longtime owner of the Missoula Independent takes over publisher duties for the alternative weekly newspaper this week as a cost-saving measure.
Matt Gibson bought the Indy in 1997 and served as publisher until 2009, when current publisher Lynne Foland was promoted to that position. Foland leaves Thursday as Gibson assumes the job.
“The size of our business doesn’t warrant employing a full-time executive who is not me,” Gibson explained.
He went on to say that the move doesn’t signal any kind of distress about the health of the company.
“We’re OK,” Gibson said. “My personal perception is that the paper is better than it’s ever been. Our story selection and writing and reporting are really good. At least I’m pleased. We fulfill our mission to provide high-quality, community-based journalism in Missoula. The paper is strong.”
Foland said she's sorry to be leaving but the Indy will be in capable hands.
"It was not a voluntary move but it wasn't unexpected," she said. "It was an amicable split. I have nothing but good things to say about everyone here. I really believe in this paper and the people who work here."
Gibson said the Indy has been affected by the same thing that has affected almost every newspaper in the country: online ads sell for only a fraction of what print ads do, and more and more readers get their news online.
“There are revenue challenges because of the migration of readers to the digital side,” he said “The revenue per reader on the digital side is considerably less than the revenue from readers in print. It’s a challenge for all media of any kind and we’re not immune from that.
"But whatever challenges there are to the industry, overall, newspapers remain extremely powerful media.”
The role of publisher is to set the overall direction for the publication, he explained.
“The publisher ensures that there are coherent strategic and tactical plans and all the resources necessary to carry out the strategy and tactics are available,” he said. “The publisher ensures there is adequate personnel and adequate revenue. I will be doing all the things we need to do to succeed.”
The Indy has carved out a niche in town as a place where readers can often find edgier and more colorful content than traditional media outlets. It’s not likely that the Missoulian or any local TV stations would choose, for example, to run a photo of an attendee at the Testicle Festival showing his bare buttocks, as the Indy did in its Aug. 11 issue.
It’s representative of the typical Indy style, but Gibson said there is no mandate for his newsroom to push boundaries.
“There’s no rulebook for that,” he said. “In general, I encourage the newsroom to write with personality. To me that means just being a little more vivid in choice of verbs and adjectives and picking out really compelling details in the scope of our reporting so that our stories are more vivid.”
Gibson is the third owner of the paper, which has been around since 1991.
He said the paper’s format of having one longform piece every week to accompany several shorter pieces has been around since its inception.
“We like longform journalism,” he said. “It’s really popular. Tracking our reader stats, our feature story seems to attract a lot of readers.”
Gibson said the paper, which employs 17 people full time as well as four part-timers and a crew of contractors, is not in any financial danger.
"We’re committed to maintaining a robust presence,” he said. “We just need to do a good job of telling our story and keep telling the stories of the people of Missoula, and if we do that, we’ll be OK.”