Loyal readers of longtime Missoula Independentopinion columnist George Ochenski won't have to wait much longer to find out.
It didn't take long for the Indy's chief rival in Missoula, Lee Newspaper's Missoulian, to offer Ochenski a weekly space on their opinion pages.
According to an email I just received from Ochenski, Missoulian editor Sherry Devlin has offered to print his column each Monday. At about 750 words, Ochenski's new space will be slightly smaller than the 1,000 words he regularly submitted to the Indy. But as Mark Twain was keenly aware when he said “I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead," longer does not necessarily mean better.
Ochenski's column, which was the cornerstone of the Indy's weekly news coverage for some 12 years, came to an abrupt end last Thursday. Ochenski and Robert Meyerowitz, the editor who has been at the helm of the alternative newsweekly for about a year, apparently didn't agree about Meyerowitz's handing of Ochenski's columns.
Ochenski told conservative talk-show host Aaron Flint that he was "forced out" by Meyerowitz. According to the Flint Report, Ochenski said Meyerowitz had been "wading into (Ochenski's) columns, changing headlines, and told him that he couldn't write about national or international topics."
Meyerowitz responded to Flint via email, saying:
"Wading into his columns, changing headlines"? What do you think an editor does?
Wading in? Changing headlines? We edit all the copy we publish, through several layers, and write headlines. We also maintain journalistic standards, for such things as fairness and accuracy, that apply to everything we publish; George Ochenski was no exception. I guess he didn't like that.
He hasn't been silenced. He can publish anywhere he's able, as far as I can see. And he hasn't been censored. We choose what we publish."
Evidently Ochenski has found a new home to publish where he'll be free to write his opinions his way.
According to his email to me early this afternoon:
"Sherry Devlin, the Missoulian's editor, has given me the leeway to write what I want, will not edit the columns except for spelling, etc., and will be sticking my mug shot at the top of the column."
So, Ochenski columns live on -- they just have a new home at the Missoulian.
This will no doubt come as good news to Ochenski's loyal fans, and it will undoubtedly have some reverberations a few blocks away at the Indy office's.
As a former reporter for the Indy, I can say from personal newsroom experience that Ochenski's column was a critical part of the paper's weekly coverage and political analysis. It's no secret that Ochenski is a progressive, anti-war, environmentalist (a seemingly nice fit for a left-leaning alternative newspaper). Ergo, not everyone -- even in Missoula -- agreed with his weekly opinions. Not even close.
But I believe his column is valued by so many readers around the state because he tells the truth, he sticks to his principles, and is rabidly non-partisan.
Take Flint Report commenter Bob "The Gas Guy" van der Valk's post last Friday:
"I do not necessarily agree with (Ochenski) about the Federal influence on energy companies using right of way to ship or transmit over or under our Big Sky Country state. For instance the Keystone XL pipeline will be a vital link to assist the US in becoming energy secure...."
"...We need both sides to be represented in any future important political discussions."
Ochenski is respected beyond the reach of the Indy's dead-tree distribution because he takes Republicans and Democrats to task in his no-holds-barred opinion columns. He holds elected leaders from all parties accountable. He is sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and, thanks to decades in the trenches as an environmental lobbyist in Helena, has an uncanny ability to boil down complex issues into concise, hard-hitting opinion columns.
Ochenski's columns certainly give certain politicians, corporations and party loyalists plenty heartburn. I'm sure there were more than a few people around the state who hoped the Indy's spiking of Ochenski's column would be the last they'd hear of him.
Ochesnki's fans, no doubt, will be glad he's still writing...even if it is for the cross-town "mainstream" newspaper.