Working with readers for a better West

High Country News turns 50 this year, but we’re already planning for the decades to come.


Fifty years ago, the founder of High Country News, Tom Bell, decided the world needed a better kind of ecological thinking. With the Intermountain West as a backdrop, he began to outline this thinking, in writing that stood in defense of the natural world. In subsequent decades, High Country News has expanded on Bell’s vision, offering readers in-depth journalism that features incisive analysis and investigations, poignant essays and narratives, sharp critiques, and a sense of wonder and humor — all in service of a better West.

Photo collage by Peter Horvath/High Country News; Source photos: HCN photo archive, Roberto (Bear) Guerra, Mark Harvey, Mike McClure, David McNew/Getty Images, Mike McMillan/ U.S. Forest Service, Josue Rivas, Terray Sylvester

In this issue, we celebrate the legacy of Tom Bell and the 50-year history of High Country News, even as we chart a path forward. In recent years, we have broadened the scope of the magazine to better live up to our mission: to inform and inspire our readers to act on behalf of the West. This means providing journalism for all of the West: those states and tribal nations west of the 100th meridian — mountains and plains, basin and range, the desert Southwest, the Pacific Northwest, the cities, suburbs and coast — every conceivable landscape, inhabited by all manner of creatures, including humans. Even as we have expanded the magazine’s geographic scope, we have sought to preserve its deeper vision. We know that the West is a better place when it has good journalists keeping an eye on it, verifying facts, informing debate and exploring new ideas.

We also know our readers want to see the West at its best: a West that is just, as well as beautiful, where the powerful are held to account, where everyone receives fair treatment, where the land, water and wildlife are protected from exploitation — a West that is prepared for the calamities ahead, especially the dangerously changing climate and a political system of increasing injustice. This is a tall order, but every day our editors and writers are out there working to fill it. And so, in this issue, alongside some deep history, you’ll get a glimpse of the next West, a West where myriad communities have a stake and a voice. These stories are more than mere information; they seek a deeper understanding of the region as a whole — as intricate tiles of an endless mosaic.

Brian Calvert, editor-in-chief
Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News

High Country News came into being alongside the environmental movement, which itself followed the civil rights era. The magazine rose in stature amid the growing inequalities of the 1980s and 1990s and through the upheavals of the post-9/11 world. Most recently, it has withstood a pandemic, a financial crisis, and ongoing attacks on the free press and the democratic ideals that a free press upholds. We are still here because of you, our readers. Now we are turning 50. Let this issue celebrate those decades, and let it be the point of embarkation for the decades to come. Most of all, let it be a note of thanks to you, without whom a better West would not be possible.

Brian Calvert is the editor-in-chief of High Country News. Email him at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

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