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for people who care about the West

We’re covering more of the West

The staff takes on a more geographically dispersed model of organization.

 

Like the runaway climate-change train now careening through the seasons, the media environment in this country is rapidly running off the rails before our eyes, and there is no sign of it slowing anytime soon. Though a handful of national news organizations, such as The New York Times and Washington Post, are thriving, many newspapers are in free-fall, used by corporate owners for short-term profit as their advertising bases crumble. In recent months, editorial staff has been slashed at The Denver Post, Salt Lake Tribune, San Jose Mercury News and Omaha World-Herald, among others. Former Denver Post reporter Jason Blevins’ grim account of that paper’s gutting (see A hedge-fund owner is ‘murdering The Denver Post) should concern everyone who sees honest reporting as essential to a functioning democracy.

So it is with a mixture of pride, excitement and some trepidation that I announce High Country News’ plans to fill a small piece of the growing void by expanding our editorial team, including in a geographic sense — by dispersing our editors across a wider region.

By July, we will have an editorial satellite office in Gunnison, Colorado (led by Editor-in-Chief Brian Calvert, incoming Digital Editor Gretchen King and Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler); a two-editor presence in Seattle, Washington (Kate Schimel and Tristan Ahtone, both associate editors); and one-person outposts in Moscow, Idaho (Assistant Editor Emily Benson); Portland, Oregon (Assistant Editor Anna Smith); and Tucson, Arizona (Associate Editor Maya Kapoor). In addition, HCN has contributing editors in Oakland and Los Angeles, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; White Salmon, Washington; Norman, Oklahoma; and Bulgaria (yes, you read that right). Meanwhile, Paonia, Colorado, will remain HCN’s headquarters, where the magazine is produced, subscriptions are served, money is raised, and the bills get paid.

Gretchen King, HCN director of engagement, settles in to her new desk in Gunnison.
Paige Blankenbuehler

The editorial dispersal is a significant change, but not entirely unprecedented. In the late 1980s, we hired a Great Basin editor (Jon Christensen, based out of Carson City, Nevada) and a Northwest editor (Pat Ford, in Boise, Idaho) to bring those regions more firmly into HCN’s coverage. In the mid-1990s, Senior Editor Ray Ring moved from Paonia to Bozeman, Montana, where he helped shape our coverage for the next decade and a half. In the 2000s, former editor Jonathan Thompson left Paonia for Durango (and later Germany and Bulgaria), where he continues to produce groundbreaking stories. And for three years before and after the election of Donald Trump, correspondent Elizabeth Shogren toiled away in the swamps of Washington, D.C. And it’s not just editorial staffers: Our major donor adviser, Alyssa Pinkerton, set up shop in Fort Collins a year and a half ago, near the largest concentration of HCN readers in the country.

But the upcoming changes are the most ambitious yet; they present considerable logistical and communication challenges, not to mention emotional ones, as friends and colleagues move away. We’ve lost count of the intense, exhausting meetings we’ve held the last few months. Staff is learning how to work and communicate on virtual platforms and become competent at video conferencing. We’re taking crash courses in tax codes and health insurance coverage across the region. And we are already planning periodic physical get-togethers to remain connected as an organization at the most human level.

It won’t be easy, but we’ll be stronger for it. Our far-flung staffers will extend the HCN community to a larger geography, where new readers can discover and interact with us. Their dispersal will build new alliances, provide invaluable fresh perspectives and spark ideas for the magazine. Ultimately, this evolving configuration will enable HCN to produce stronger, deeper journalism from the ground level, at a time when our society desperately needs it. Thank you, dear friends, for believing in our mission, and for supporting us as we seek to adapt and succeed in these turbulent times.