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A century of family ownership ends with sale of Hi-Line newspapers

Kavanaghs newspaper.jpg
LeAnne and Brian Kavanagh

Earlier this month, a chapter of Montana journalism history came to a close when Brian and LeAnne Kavanagh sold the Cut Bank Pioneer Press, Shelby Promoter, Browning Glacier Reporter and the Valierian, ending a century of Kavanagh newspaper ownership.

The paper's new owner, Ponderosa Publications, manages the Silver State Post in Deer Lodge, Philipsburg Mail and the Bitterroot Star in Stevensville.

"It was an opportunity to pass it on to people that really appreciate print still while also going with the social media things that everybody has to do," Brian Kavanagh said, "but they are not going to abandon print.

Yellowstone Public Radio’s Kay Erickson talked to Kavanagh shortly after the sale on why they were ending the family business.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Brian Kavanagh: Very simply, we’ve been doing it for 40 years and we were just in a situation where we couldn’t leave. Couldn’t go to the see the grandkids in Billings, [LeAnne's] parents in Arizona or anywhere else. We couldn’t miss an issue of the paper. And doing it for 40 years we just thought we wanna, maybe, do something else.

So retirement, total retirement, may be not the right word, but ... we were ready for something else. And I think we had buyers who are really strong in the print world, which is disappearing now, so it was an opportunity to pass it on to people that really appreciate print still while also going with the social media things that everybody has to do but they are not going to abandon print. So I believe that was a driving factor, too. And we also started a golf simulator business just as something fun for the town and we can spend a little time over there as well.

Kay Erickson: Now you were telling me that the Montana Hi-Line and smaller communities in Montana have a history of print journalism.

Oh, yeah, it was crazy back in the day. My great grandfather, who bought the Shelby Promoter in 1922, actually started the Galata Journal in 1910, and later established the Devon Register, the Dunkirk Times and the Lothair Ledger. Look those towns up, you know. They’re not huge towns, but I think this was when all those towns were kinda vying to be the county seat as well. So there was a competition there. I think a lot of these papers sprung up in hopes of their towns being the county seat.

What are you and your wife going to miss the most?

We haven’t figured that out yet. You know, we’ve only been quote “retired” for, this is our third day now. There’s just a lot of great people that you end up do projects with or helping out. LeAnne does a lot of stories to promote organizations and the towns of Cut Bank or Browning or Shelby or Valier, so kind of being that cheerleader for your towns and helping people out and publicizing things. Making events successful and then reporting on those events. Those are all fun things.

After a while though, you know, it still kind of wears on you a little bit too, because everybody has a special event. And when that is a special event, their special event needs to be our special events. That is one thing we’ll miss, though, is promoting our towns, I believe.

Kay Erickson has been working in broadcasting in Billings for more than 20 years. She spent well over a decade as news assignment editor at KTVQ-TV before joining the staff at YPR. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University, with a degree in broadcast journalism. Shortly after graduation she worked in Great Falls where she was one of the first female sports anchor and reporter in Montana.