Cut through all the positive spin around corporate downsizing and the journalism industry looks downright bleak these days. Just look at what happened locally early this week: The Missoulian and the Ravalli Republic, both owned by Lee Enterprises Inc., announced Tuesday they will merge newsrooms in the interests of being "better able to cover the wide breadth and depth of issues facing western Montanans." The release told readers to be on the lookout for enhanced news reports and online content from both papers, and added, "No one was laid off in either newsroom as part of the merger."
That last statement may be true, but it's misleading. Tim Akimoff, the Missoulian's web manager and dedicated beer blogger, says the paper fired him around 2 p.m. Monday. He was told his position was a "luxury" the Missoulian "could no longer afford."
Akimoff wasn't part of the newsroom, but over the past three years he's overseen staff training in new media at both papers, launched social networking profiles for the Missoulian on Twitter and Facebook, and monitored the implementation of the Missoula daily's new online content management system.
"Digitally, there wasn't much I didn't have my hands on," Akimoff says.
Shortly after finding himself "in the enviable position of being a stay at home dad" this week, Akimoff posted a farewell letter on his Facebook page. The letter turned up on the Poynter Institute's online forum Tuesday morning under the title "The next adventure," and stated that while Akimoff's fragile love for newspapers remained intact, he sees the writing on the wall.
"Unfortunately, newspapers are helmed by old, decrepit captains who cannot see past their bifocals way down their noses reading about yesterday with all the relevance of the Hindenberg blimp disaster," he wrote.
Calls to publisher Stacey Mueller, who was Akimoff's direct supervisor, went unreturned.
Akimoff says he knows of no other layoffs this week, but he's certainly not the only name to disappear from local mastheads. The Missoulian laid-off part-time video reporter David Brown earlier this summer. Two other newsroom staff members also announced in August they were leaving the paper.
Akimoff's not sure what he'll do next. He might sit back and watch how online media evolves before seeking other positions. If his bosses at the Missoulian stick to their word, he'll even retain rights to his popular beer blog, the Grizzly Growler.
"It's my blood, sweat and tears, so I think it's pretty magnanimous of them to let me keep it," he says.
In the age of new media, it seems only fitting that a tech-savvy employee's severance package comes complete with a blog.