I’m not sure why this week old story popped up on the mobile version of the Independent Record today, but it offers a telling look at the future of news coverage from the largest chain of papers in the state. A mere week before forcing out their top two political reporters to save money, the (Lee Enterprises) Missoulian offered up a hard-hitting expose about Montana “H” towns, including looks at Helena, Hot Springs, and more. The story proved to be such a viral sensation that it raced across the aforementioned poverty-stricken Lee papers across the state.
One problem, though. Despite a vague citation at the bottom of the piece reading “Information for this article came from many sources, including Roberta Carkeet Cheney’s “Names on the Faces of Montana: The Story of Montana’s Place Names”, the Helena (and at least one other) section is little more than a badly plagiarized rewrite of a portion of the Helena Wikipedia page. Here’s a longer than normal quote from the Missoulian story:
Can you imagine Montana’s capital city being named Pumpkinville?
How about Squashtown?
Both were possibilities when, on Oct. 30, 1864, a group gathered to lay out streets, elect commissioners and name the mining camp where they lived.
The camp had already been known by a couple of names. “Crabtown,” taken from the name of one of the men who first struck gold here, wasn’t too appealing. “Last Chance” might be a cool name today, but it wasn’t the image they were looking to project back then.
After considering and rejecting “Tomah,” which the group believed was a word that had meaning to local Indians, “Pumpkinville” and “Squashtown” were brought up.
The men making the decision were, after all, meeting on the day before Halloween.
The conversation eventually turned toward naming it after places the miners, many of them from Minnesota, had come from. “Winona” and “Rochester” were bandied about. Then one fellow suggested naming the new town after Helena Township, Minnesota.
He pronounced it Heh-LEE-na. That chafed former Confederates in the group, who liked the name but said the correct pronunciation was HELL-in-uh, like the Arkansas town of the same name on the Mississippi River.
And so the town that would become Montana’s capital city was named Helena, even though several years apparently passed before HELL-in-uh became the common pronunciation.
And now from Wikipedia:
The original camp was named “Last Chance” by the Four Georgians. By fall, the population had grown to over 200, and some considered the name “Last Chance” as too crass. On October 30, 1864, a group of at least seven self-appointed men met to name the town, authorize the layout of the streets, and elect commissioners. The first suggestion was “Tomah,” a word the committee thought had connections to the local Indian people. Other nominations included Pumpkinville and Squashtown (as the meeting was held the day before Halloween). Other suggestions were to name the community after various Minnesota towns, such as Winona and Rochester, where many migrants had come from. Finally, a Scotsman named John Summerville proposed Helena, which he pronounced /həˈliːnə/ hə-lee-nə in honor of Helena Township, Scott County, Minnesota. This immediately caused an uproar from the former Confederates in the room, who insisted upon the pronunciation /ˈhɛlɨnə/ hel-i-nə, after Helena, Arkansas, a town on the Mississippi River. While the name “Helena” won, the pronunciation varied until approximately 1882 when the /ˈhɛlɨnə/ hel-i-nə pronunciation became dominant and has remained so to the present.
How about this section of the piece about the community of Hays? From the Missoulian:
Just how old Theresa Elizabeth (Chandler) White Weasel Walker Lamebull was when she died in 2007, no one knows for sure, but many believe she was born in 1896 and was 111 – a super-centenarian from the Gros Ventre Tribe who was possibly the oldest living Native American ever recorded. She was from Hays, on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation.
And from Wikipedia:
Theresa Elizabeth (Chandler) White Weasel Walker Lamebull, (April 19, 1896 – August 10, 2007) was reputedly a supercentenarian believed to have been be the oldest living member of the Gros Ventre Tribe of Montana and possibly the oldest native American ever recorded.
In the end, it’s sloppy, lazy work about a lame topic, not something that would either really inform or entertain anyone, but more importantly, it’s telling about the kind of product we can expect from a company that has cut news gathering down to one of its lowest priorities. When you don’t adequately staff news coverage and don’t really even make it a priority, you get stories like this.
Back in August, you might remember that the Missoulian took a pretty nuanced stand on plagiarism, writing that Senator John Walsh should resign, because “Plagiarism is a big deal. It is an act of deception that has serious consequences – not the least of these being a loss of trust.”
I wonder if that same standard of trust applies to the reporters and editors charged with bringing us the news.