2011 marks 41 years that High Country News has been in existence. While another year is certainly noteworthy, especially in this age of disappearing print publications, it won’t carry the fanfare of the past year.
This last year was anything but ordinary here at High Country News. To celebrate the organization’s 40th anniversary, subscribers hosted fabulous potlucks and house parties around the region, readers submitted photos and essays, Senior Editor Ray Ring profiled , Tom Bell, and articles about the institution’s 40 years of reporting on the West cropped up in several newspapers.
The 40th Anniversary Blog was another piece of the celebratory cake. Some of the earliest High Country News covers, letters from readers, quirky photos, and hard-hitting stories not found on our website (our online archives date back only to 1993) appeared on the blog.
It recounted the organization’s scrappy beginnings in Lander, Wyo., chronicled the passionate and visionary work of founder Tom Bell and told of the organization’s devoted and generous readers. It highlighted the dedicated work of those who followed in Bell’s footsteps – Joan Nice, Bruce Hamilton and others in Lander who steered the paper through the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, followed by Ed and Betsy Marston who took the reins in 1983 for a 19-year stint – each in their own way shaping the institution that Bell created.
For the last eight years, Paul Larmer has been at the helm of High Country News, propelling the institution forward as the Executive Director. Larmer first joined High Country News as an intern in 1984. In 1992 Betsy Marston persuaded him to return to High Country News as a staffer. Several years later he founded Writers on the Range, the organization’s syndicated op-ed service. Eventually he took on the role of editor.
When Larmer was unanimously chosen by the board of directors to lead High Country News after Publisher Ed Marston retired in 2002, he held an invaluable sum of institutional knowledge about the West and the organization. His knack for bringing a fresh perspective and strong voices to the pages of High Country News has meant increasingly diverse coverage of Western issues, no easy task at a publication that’s covered many of the same stories for 40 years.
Lamer was the second intern to arrive at the Paonia, Colo., office where he set tracks in what he calls “Betsy Marston’s journalism boot camp.” It’s a path followed by many since the paper’s early days in Lander, Wyo. As editor, Betsy Marston worked with over a hundred interns before shifting to her current role as Writers on the Range editor.
High Country News interns have been essential to the organization’s hard-hitting journalism and unique perspective, reporting news for both the paper and website. Over the years, they’ve populated the organization’s editorial staff and freelance contributor ranks. Many work for the region’s newspapers or write about the West for national print publications and news websites. Others are federal land management agents, environmental nonprofit directors or work with corporations that want to lessen their carbon footprint.
It’s a seeding project that works remarkably well in the West’s rugged landscape and changing communities.
Now, it’s time to put the 40th Anniversary Blog to bed and get on with the business of creating another four decades of High Country News history, a history that continues to inform and inspire people to take action on behalf of the West. Because as it turns out, the High Country News model - a nonprofit supported not by advertising revenue, but by its community of committed subscribers who are willing to give beyond the price of a subscription, foundation grants and an exceptionally dedicated staff – is another project that’s taken root remarkably well in the West.