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Former Montana reporter “confused” by Lee Enterprises employment layoffs



Billings, Montana – This week, at least 13 newsroom positions were eliminated by Lee Enterprises, Montana’s largest newspaper company, raising concerns about the future viability of the sector.

Skylar Rispens was shocked to learn that she was going to be fired this week.

“I was pretty upset,” Rispens said in a Zoom interview Thursday afternoon. “I was really just kind of confused.”

The second-largest newspaper in the state, The Missoulian, employed Rispens, 25, as an education correspondent. She claimed that she had her dream job every day.

“I wanted to serve communities,” Rispens said. “I wanted to tell people what was going on. I wanted to be their ears and their eyes.”

Unfortunately, Rispens is not alone, and she is aware that her former coworkers’ life has become significantly more challenging.

“I just immediately felt so horrible for the people that were left, the ones that survived the cuts,” Rispens said. “And then I thought, ‘Oh my god. What does that mean for the communities we cover?'”

Rispens stated that she is currently reevaluating her future and is concerned that this may force her to leave her home state.

“I just felt really strongly that education and covering Montana, the state that I call my home, was really important,” Rispens said. “It feels like it’s kind of pushing me out of the journalism scene in Montana because there just are so few jobs left.”

She is correct. The number of newsroom employees in the United States has decreased 57% between 2008 and 2020, according to Pew Research. 400 jobs were lost by Iowa-based Lee Enterprises in 2022.

These developments have compelled the University of Montana’s journalism program to reconsider how it educates its students. According to Lee Banville, director of the journalism school, adaptability has taken precedence over specialization.

“We’re more interested in, you can report and write and adapt to the professional opportunities that arise in the communities you serve,” Banville said. “It used to be, ‘Oh, I want to focus on print, or photography, or videography.’ Now, we try to be great at all three.”

Banville claimed that despite the newspaper industry’s struggles to keep workers employed, students are still interested in the field. Even still, fewer students are now aspiring to work in broadcast news, according to him.

“I would actually say we have more interest in writing and photography than we have in sort of traditional broadcast, even though I would say there are more jobs in traditional broadcast right now,” Banville said.

Technology, according to Banville, is partially to blame. People will decide to use methods other than newspapers to obtain their news as it continues to transform the landscape. Banville is yet optimistic that journalists like Rispens will succeed.

“If you’re a good reporter, you’re a good reporter,” Banville said. “And you will always find ways to get that story to the public.”

Rispens expressed her curiosity and excitement about what will happen next.

“I don’t feel lost in a sense that I don’t have any opportunities lying ahead of me,” Rispens said. “I just feel kind of lost because there’s so many different directions that I could go right now.”