Monday, April 4, 2016

Missoulian editor addresses gun incident, awaits fate

Posted By on Mon, Apr 4, 2016 at 1:35 PM

Missoulian editor Matt Bunk says he eagerly awaits resolution after being suspended indefinitely for bringing a gun to the newsroom. But if history is any guide, he probably won't be coming back.

The new editor, whose tenure began in August 2015 after longtime editor Sherry Devlin was demoted, was disciplined last week after being seen carrying a gun in the office, in violation of company policy, news website Missoula Current first reported. A March 31 internal memo alerted Missoulian staffers that Bunk would be "out of the office until further notice."

In a personal Facebook post he shared Monday with the Indy, Bunk says the incident involved an antique handgun his girlfriend recently gave him as an engagement gift. The editor says he has a concealed carry permit and often wears a gun, but forgot to remove it from his hip before entering the office one day. "Someone pointed it out, and I put it back in my car immediately," he wrote.

Bunk also apologized to Lee Enterprises, the Missoulian's parent company, for violating its workplace policy and explained why he often carries a gun. "I routinely get threatened with violence due to my job, and a couple years ago decided to get a concealed carry permit to keep my loved ones and myself safe," he wrote.

Bunk declined additional comment Monday, except to apologize for the "commotion" the incident has caused. "I'm waiting for Lee Enterprises to finish taking a look at this," he says, "and I eagerly await resolution."

The last time an editor at one of Lee's five Montana newspapers was caught packing heat in the newsroom, he was swiftly terminated. Charles Wood was editor of the Helena Independent Record for 14 years before the company fired him for bringing a .22-caliber Colt Woodsman to the office in 1999, Editor & Publisher reported at the time. 
click to enlarge Missoulian editor Matt Bunk isn't the first Montana editor to be disciplined for bringing an antique gun to the newsroom. - PHOTO BY CHAD HARDER
  • Photo by Chad Harder
  • Missoulian editor Matt Bunk isn't the first Montana editor to be disciplined for bringing an antique gun to the newsroom.
The report is scant on details, but former Independent Record staffers recall that Wood stored the antique firearm in his desk while trying to secure a safety deposit box for it at a local bank. When a janitor found the gun, the police were called, and Wood was fired the same day.

Many in the newsroom understood Wood's gun violation as a pretext to fire an editor who otherwise didn't get along well with the paper's publisher, the former staffers say. 

Bunk's brief tenure at the Missoulian has also been surrounded by newsroom politics of a different variety. In February, Devlin sued the paper and publisher Mark Heintzelman, alleging she was unfairly forced out of her position and replaced by Bunk, who her civil complaint describes as a "much younger and much less qualified" male. Bunk was the publisher and editor of a twice-weekly newspaper in Libby before hired by the Missoulian. 

Bunk is also the current president of the Montana Newspaper Association, the trade group for 83 newspapers across the state. Executive Director Jim Rickman says the executive committee of MNA's board has scheduled a conference call Tuesday to discuss Bunk's situation. The two spoke personally Monday morning, Rickman says.

Rickman doesn't expect the board will pursue any immediate action. However, if Bunk were terminated from his position at the Missoulian, he would be ineligible to serve as board president, Rickman confirms.

"At this point in time, we don't have substantial facts as to Matt's status," he says.

Bunk's suspension was initially reported by former Missoulian reporter Martin Kidston, who left the paper in December to start a rival news outlet. He has criticized Bunk publicly in the past. Shortly before leaving, Kidston tweeted that his boss was "avoiding the real issues" in an interview with Montana Public Radio.

On Friday, Kidston elaborated on his sense of the Missoulian's woes to KGVO Radio, saying, "[The employees] are overworked and underpaid and under-motivated because there is no reason to get motivated because there is no leadership."
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