This issue is the 54th since we became owners of The Monitor last December. For those of you keeping score (we are), that amounts to 6% of the total that Jan Anderson, our predecessor, produced in her 17 years as editor. We remain in awe.
Still, we’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished over the course of those 54 issues. We think we are putting out a paper that consistently surfaces the issues that matter most to the people of Jefferson County; that accurately and fairly reports what’s happening in a timely way; and that reveals much of what’s special about this community.
We have made changes to The Monitor – some very visible, some less so. You no doubt have noticed a gradual shift in the look of the paper, as we’ve introduced a new design with different fonts and aesthetic features. We’ve put an emphasis on charts and graphics that help explain important and sometimes complex trends. And we’ve placed a premium on photography – notably, John Blodgett’s outstanding images that capture the essential moments of life in this place; and also contributions from Rose Johnson, Dawn Smartnick, and John Smith that bring our school and sports pages to life.
We’ve expanded our coverage of the North County communities of Montana City, Clancy, and Jefferson City, home to a growing number of readers. We’ve launched new features, like Vaia Errett’s wonderful hiking column and Bret Lian’s fascinating “JeffCo Geographic” (see page 7), and retired others (remember the “Newspaper Fun” page?).
We’ve invested in infrastructure that we hope will sustain The Monitor through the next decade: new systems for accounting, email, content management, subscriptions, and advertising tracking. (Note that we have not replaced the massive, c. 1952 commercial-grade paper cutter. That thing literally will last forever.)
Most important, we’ve introduced The Monitor Online, our new website. We promise, the weekly newspaper will not go away – but the new site is attracting a new audience that will help position The Monitor for continued viability.
At the same time, The Monitor has not lived up to some of the ambitions I described a year ago. “Surveying the Views,” our opinion page, has struggled a bit to reflect the full spectrum of perspective in this county. For that matter, our news coverage could be doing more to represent accurately the diversity of people and institutions across our communities.
We have done relatively little true solutions journalism – reporting that surfaces and reports critically on the responses to social challenges. You’ll start seeing more of that when the Montana Fourth Estate Project on aging, of which The Monitor is part, emerges next month. But we’re also committed to pursuing more solutions stories on our own account.
Most of all, I think, we’re still wrestling with the question of how to apply The Monitor’s limited reporting resources (hint: that means John, mostly) to a virtually unlimited universe of potential stories. We talk about this a lot.
We don’t have a perfect answer to this challenge – but here’s where we’ve landed. While we’ll still continue to track the county’s day-to-day goings-on – crime, traffic accidents and fires, and government meetings like those of the County Commission and the Boulder City Council (to name just two of very many) – we’ll report less about them directly in the paper and on our site. More often, we will look for intelligence that informs longer-term analysis and trend stories. Ultimately, we believe that sort of enterprise reporting will provide our readers with greater value.
That longer-view reporting will focus, for now, on five issues that we believe will be most important in shaping the future of Jefferson County:
Mental health: More than one in four young people in Jefferson County report having considered suicide in the last year. This is more than shocking. And access to mental health care topped the list of concerns in the county’s recent Community Health Assessment. We want to better understand and confront this challenge.
Economic development: The Boulder area is still struggling to figure out what will replace the lost employment from the closure of the Montana Developmental Center. And Whitehall soon will need to confront a future without the Golden Sunlight Mine, the county’s last. Volunteers and local officials have been guiding the expenditure of $500,000 in state funds meant to help the community recover from the MDC’s closure – and we’ll continue to track their progress.
Tale of two counties: Jefferson is the wealthiest county in the state, but that masks big wealth and income gaps. How the county addresses those divides will determine much about the quality of life and culture of this community – and indeed, whether it remains a coherent community.
Aging: As in many rural communities, Jefferson County’s people are getting older. With that demographic shift comes new challenges for public safety, transportation infrastructure, and access to health care – all of which are difficult in a low-population density setting. How will we keep up?
Civic engagement: For many reasons – aging being just one – the involvement of people in the machinery of civic life is at risk of decline. Few new faces have emerged to lead community organizations. Attendance at community events is stagnant. How might we reinvent civic life to ensure greater participation and benefit?
We welcome your thoughts on this coverage approach. Please share your views, good or bad, when we mail out our annual survey next month.
I want to thank our great team at the Monitor: John, who has put his heart and soul into this and every issue; Candace Hecker, who gets the paper out the door through thick and thin; Scott Knight, who comes in early every Wednesday to help label and bundle; and Jackie Dyer, my partner and the person who runs the numbers, sends the invoices, and pays the bills.
All of us are grateful to you, the people of Jefferson County, for welcoming us into your community. You have shown us great warmth and generosity, such that we’ve very quickly felt at home. (I’ll never forget the moment, about a year ago, when John heard a pounding on the exterior wall – and opened the door to find Basin’s Melanie Sako affixing Christmas decorations to the building. She had decided we needed brightening, so she made it happen.)
Just as important, you’ve shown us time and again that you value quality local journalism in your community. At a moment when the news business nationally continues to decline, you have demonstrated your support for our efforts to sustain a newspaper that serves the future of Jefferson County. We deeply appreciate your subscriptions and advertising – and at least as much, your frequent words of encouragement. We’ll do our best to live up to them.