By David Erickson, Missoulian

Longtime Missoula Independent publisher Matt Gibson has been named the general manager of the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic and the Independent, three news outlets owned by Lee Enterprises.

Mike Gulledge, Lee Enterprises publishing vice president and regional publisher of the Missoulian and Billings Gazette, made the announcement during a staff meeting alongside Gibson on Wednesday morning.

“Matt has a proven track record of effective leadership and is passionate about the Missoula region,” Gulledge said. “His strong business relationships in the Missoula community and across Montana are very impressive. I look forward to working with him in this new and exciting role.”

The Missoulian and Ravalli Republic newsrooms will continue to report directly to Gulledge. Gibson will oversee advertising, circulation, production and finance at the Missoula and Hamilton news organizations and will oversee all operations at the Independent. Brad Tyer, Indy editor, will report to Indy general manager Andy Sutcliffe.

Gibson stepped down as publisher of the Independent on Wednesday to take on his new role.

He has been the publisher of the Indy, an alternative weekly newspaper and website in Missoula, since 1997 and was the owner of the publication when it was bought by Lee Enterprises earlier this year.

Gibson started his journalism career as a reporter for the Livingston Enterprise in 1990 and is a former president of the Montana Newspaper Association and a board member of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to help lead the best news business in western Montana,” Gibson said. “Lee has great people in Missoula, and I’m committed to the work of ensuring that the Missoulian, the Ravalli Republic, and the Missoula Independent remain the strongest, most effective and most respected news and advertising operations in the region.”

Longtime Missoulian reporter Rob Chaney wanted to know if the two papers are going to maintain their editorial independence going forward.

“The distinct character of the two papers is a strength that we want to maintain,” Gibson said. “Our audiences complement each other and our reach complements the value that we can deliver to the advertisers. So, having two different niches in the market is exactly what we want to attempt to do. People may be skeptical about that, and that’s OK. But everybody needs to know that Mike’s committed, I’m committed, the editors are committed to running two strong, distinct (Missoula) newspapers with distinct voices, distinct audiences and distinct sales staff.”

Gulledge said that when he began talking with Gibson about Lee purchasing the Independent, they both agreed that the worst thing that could happen was that the Independent not be “independent” anymore.

“We’re not merging staff,” Gulledge said.

Gibson will be moving into an office in the advertising department in the Missoulian.

“With the Independent and the Republic and the Missoulian together, we can do things that nobody else can do and it’s not even close,” Gibson said. “And having the opportunity to lead the effort and be a part of it is everything I want out of my career and what I want for Missoula for the craft of journalism. We’re going to do some great work together.”

Lee Enterprises owns news outlets across the country that serve 50 markets in 22 states. Lee’s newspapers have an average circulation of 900,000 daily and 1.2 million on Sunday.