When Western Montana wanted to know about the end of World War 2, find out about "JFK" being assassinated, or learn what had been destroyed in the devastating "Big Blow Up" fires of 1910, they eagerly turned to the pages of the Missoulian.

But now, after surviving the turmoil, and economic challenges since the city's earliest days in 1870, the storied newspaper has become another victim of changing news tastes and rising costs. The Missoulian announced over the weekend it will cease to be a "daily" printed newspaper, only producing a print edition three times a week.

It's a sad development for not only traditional journalism, but a morning routine that kept people informed, and engaged, in their community.

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Over the weekend, Lee Newspapers announced "in an effort to preserve and enhance local news coverage" the print edition of the Missoulian will only be published on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, beginning in July. The paper's story said it was a change reflecting how news audiences have changed for the Missoulian.

"It has had to adapt to outside forces affecting the local news industry, including shifts in advertising trends and increasing newsprint costs," Lee Newspapers

Lee Newspapers said readers can still receive a daily E-edition delivered every morning, 7 days a week. And all the popular comics and puzzles will be included in the 3-day print editions. The paper is also promising to continue the "most significant news every hour" on its digital platforms, which is the most positive point of the transition.

The end of tradition, which had already largely disappeared

For decades, and even before the Internet's impact on mass media, newspapers had struggled to balance costs and revenues. One of the first big steps was the loss of "afternoon papers", which vanished in efforts to be more competitive against television news back in the 1980s. Between 2000 and 2010, papers across the country, including the Missoulian, began cutting back on the number of pages, and reducing the size of their papers, shifting more content online. They also consolidated print operations in an effort to shave further costs.

Yet even so, long-standing news consumption trends continued to vanish, as computers, and then phones, became the delivery system of choice for most people. That's applied to both morning papers and evening television news programs.

Sadly, these changes are about more than just the loss of a morning paper you could share at the coffee shop, and then discuss the latest political developments or Grizzly sports results with friends. It's also marked a "watering down" of people's awareness of important community issues and ideas, as your news is picked by algorithms on your phone, rather than an experienced local editor and reporters in touch with your town. It's not that there's no news, it's just not the most important news without robust local news outlets.

Not just a loss for journalism, but young jobs

And within the Missoulian's announcement is the end of a tradition that may be the worst loss of all. Lee Newspapers says it will no longer be using newspaper carriers for delivery for that handful of print editions, relying solely on the U.S. Mail instead.

While most kids today probably weren't interested in being a carrier, how many generations of young entrepreneurs got their start on a paper route, going on to be successful in the world of business? There was no better place to learn customer service than landing the paper just right in the middle of a Missoula blizzard. 

At least there will be far fewer mornings when you look down and realize your hands are smudged with ink. But that's sadly symbolic of the era's end. A time when wanting to be informed, and caring, about your community, left its mark.

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