If it weren’t for those meddling Montana kids…

The funny thing about disruption and disintermediation is that you never see it coming if you’re the incumbent, the old school, the big slow mover lumbering into the future baby step by baby step.

Know what I mean?

Wes Eben, publisher of the Big Horn County News in Hardin, Montana knows what I mean. Well, he does now.

Eben’s small, rural, community paper is suddenly getting its butt kicked online by a J-School project running out of the University of Montana’s “Rural News Network.”

The site, CrowNews.net, is updated with content produced by the community and students in the program.

Eben’s complaint, lodged in an interview with the alt-weekly Missoula Independent, is that the school should have found a community more in need of extended coverage instead of muscling in on his territory.

But looking at the Big Horn site, and others owned by the same company, I can’t help but think that these communities are clearly not getting the coverage they deserve.

Without delving too far into the particulars, I’ll just give you a feel for the quality of the sites by pointing out that many of them feature a Comic Sans-like font and frames. I did manage to find some photo galleries two clicks deep, which isn’t bad at all.

Compare that with the blog-software powered CrowNews.net, with audio slideshows, video, and comments front and center.

The message to community newspapers, often with a long-held monopoly on news and advertising in rural towns:

Move first, move fast, and be the dynamic news source for your town before someone else launches a disruptive project in your neighborhood.

(Missoula Independent link via Journerdism and Romenesko.)

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