I arrived in Kalispell on April 15, 2007 with a Toyota RAV4 full of my scant belongings. A mistreated Gibson guitar was likely the most valuable item of the bunch, including the car. I was not so much scared as overwhelmed by the weight of it all: I was starting a new job as reporter for the Flathead Beacon, a paper that didn’t exist yet but that I was expected to play a fundamental role in bringing to existence. I was 22 years old. My college diploma hadn’t arrived in the mail yet.
I had only visited Kalispell once and didn’t know anybody, except for the Beacon’s editor, Kellyn Brown, who I knew only through a few job interviews. So, naturally, I moved onto his couch. At that point in my life I was accustomed to sleeping on couches, so the transition was as seamless as it was comfortable, though I moved out once I found my own home a couple of weeks later. That first night, over cocktails, Kellyn and I wondered aloud about the journey ahead. Then the next day we headed to the office, met up with the rest of the Beacon’s small crew and started a newspaper.
Those earliest Beacon days were marked by wide-eyed ambition and youthful enthusiasm, though not always a clear idea of what we were doing. Kellyn, photographer Lido Vizzutti and the other reporter on staff, Dan Testa, were all 27. The newsroom would later take on a third reporter, Keriann Lynch, who, like me, was five years younger than the others. That’s a young crew to start a newspaper in an unfamiliar place at a time when many people were declaring newspapers dead.
I remember all of us staring at a blank story board each Monday, asking, “Well, what are we going to write about this week?” Brainstorming sessions by nature produce ideas that run from ridiculous to acceptable to quite good. Since we had a paper to produce every week, and limited knowledge of the area, we often had no choice but to pursue them all. I admit to cringing when I look back at some early issues.
But the paper would improve steadily as we grew to understand the community better and matured as journalists. In the newspaper business, growing up takes place publicly in front of thousands of people, who see all of your mistakes and questionable decisions along with your moments of triumph.
As I part ways with the Beacon, beginning this week, I’m proud of what the paper has become in six years, guided by the steady editorial hand of Kellyn, my close friend and one of the best men I’ve ever known. I’m also grateful for a Flathead community that greeted us with open arms and never wavered in its support. I would like to think the relationship has been reciprocal, that in return we have given the community something of enduring value.
I’m setting out on my own to pursue writing projects that have dwelled for years in my head and my dreams. I see a window of opportunity now to bring those projects to life on the page. We’ll have to wait to see whether they go on to find lives of their own as published pieces, or whether they die on the desks of editors and publishers. That is the nature of this game, but I’m ready to play.
The reason I feel ready to play, to take this leap, is the Beacon. These last six years – the skills I honed, the worldview I developed, the friends I made – have laid a foundation for the rest of my life, both professionally and personally. Six years ago, I was a strong candidate for falling deeply into youthful aimlessness. But the Beacon gave me direction and a place to call home. It gave me family where I have none; friends where I had none. And it gave me purpose.
With the Beacon as my guide, the amorphous aimlessness of my early 20s began to take on structure and shape, and the shape began to look like a career arc. Now as the arc bends in a slightly different direction, I want to say thank you to the Beacon and the community that has nurtured it, for ensuring there is a direction at all. I’ll see you further on down the road.
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