For a moment there, I thought the Rapid City Journal had traded up. I'm not sure which columnist the Journal was replacing: Janette McIntyre (who apparently prefers Gordon Howie's Potemkin blog village, where her ill-thought, knee-jerk, but flimsy conservatism will escape most people's attention) or volatile ex-mayor Jim Shaw. But this summer, the Rapid City paper brought on columnist Don Frankenfeld, who knows a thing or two about hard-hitting rational argument. Starting August 7, Frankenfeld banged out four columns, tackling Civic Center expansion, non-partisan elections, gay rights, and education.

Alas, in line with the erection of its new paywall (that's why I can't link you Frankenfeld's columns) and its new pay-to-play letters to the editor policy, the Rapid City Journal has taken one more step to reduce intelligent public discourse: they've canned Frankenfeld. The budding columnist made the mistake of criticizing his new part-time employer in a comment on RCJ's Mount Blogmore:

I had lunch years ago with the late, great Peg Sagen, editor of the RCJ, who complained that she disliked the Internet, and particularly disliked that she was expected to compete against herself by providing free online news content for which print subscribers had to pay. I suggested that there was no reason to give Internet readers a free ride. Now the Journal is finally trying (clumsily) to do the obvious thing. I hate it when that happens! And with the RCJ charging folks for publishing political letters to the editor, I suppose the next step is to slap a heavy fine on columnists...

I am grumpy about the new policies and unsure as a reader what to do about them. Probably I will drop my subscription to the print version in favor of digital only, although I am confused about the cost of this option. And I agree that Blogmorites collectively have voluntarily contributed something of value; it irks me to think this site, already less user-friendly than before, may disappear behind a paywall.

...by forsaking reasonably interesting content, created for free and distributed for free, the Journal may put itself into a self-reinforcing negative spiral. Or maybe accelerate an existing negative spiral.

I depend on the RCJ, and will be sad if it continues its prolonged fade... [Don Frankenfeld, comment to Kevin Woster's "Pay Wall, Pay Wall, Who's Got the Pay Wall? We Do!" Mount Blogmore, September 25, 2012].

The higher-ups at the Rapid City Journal consider criticism of their business and employment thereby incompatible. In response to what they characterize as Frankenfeld's "hostility" toward the paper, RCJ will no longer publish Frankenfeld's columns.

(By the way, I hear RCJ still hasn't paid Frankenfeld for his four columns. Not that Frankenfeld's hurting for cash, but one would think that with paywall revenues now surely swelling the Lee Enterprise coffers, issuing checks for services rendered would not be a problem.)

RCJ publisher Shannon Brinker is free to hire, fire, and drive her paper into the ground as she sees fit. But she also demonstrates that even the press can place corporate control and brand management over the First Amendment.

Oops, looks like I shouldn't bother applying for that open columnist spot, either.