The history of the Flathead Beacon is a mix of anxiety and anticipation. There’s success and failure. There are fleeting moments you’ll never forget, when the work meant something, or at least you thought it did.
I was 28 when we sent our first 24-page newspaper to the printers. There were three other University of Montana graduates (all in their 20s) in the newsroom then. There were two salespeople. That was it.
When we launched the website that night, we huddled in our office and watched it go live. The whole thing felt like a miracle. In many ways, it was.
About six months earlier, I had been asked to leave my job as city editor at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle to help start the Flathead Beacon, by television personality and longtime Bigfork resident Maury Povich no less. Whom I’d never met.
I said “yes” with more reservations than I led on, at once exhilarated and filled with self-doubt. The reason we’re still here has less to do with me than the loyalty of ownership, talent of the staff, and support of locals who have become customers and, often times, long-time friends.
The proposition of starting a newspaper in 2007 was as unusual then as it would be today. Dozens of media companies have sprung up over the last decade, but most of them focus on niche topics or cover national politics. Fewer have launched to cover a tight-knit community of this size — one that was likely surprised when the Beacon began arriving in boxes across the valley 10 years ago.
Those first few months after we began publishing, the Flathead was still riding a boom cycle. Construction dotted the landscape. We had rock-bottom unemployment and there was an air of optimism.
Then the bottom fell out.
A financial crisis that plunged the country into the Great Recession hit the Flathead especially hard. Within a year, we were writing stories about our largest industries laying off scores of employees, homeowners facing foreclosures, and commercial developers searching for tenants.
It seemed everyone was suffering as we were still struggling to get our footing. Through 2009, as the downturn lingered, the regional economy dominated conversations among locals and much of our news coverage. More troubling — there was no end in sight.
In our old office, a former shoe store on Main Street, we shared the rest of the valley’s fears: When would the next shoe drop?
Then our coverage began to change. Stories about the beleaguered economy were replaced with ones about the Flathead’s resiliency. Residents headed back to college in record numbers for retraining. Entrepreneurs decided that if they wanted a job, they would have to create their own.
It was a story of survival, reinvention and rejuvenation. And we were all in it together. For us, it has involved downsizing, then upsizing, then transitioning from focusing just on a newspaper, to expanding into magazines, marketing and web design.
You see, that story continues. The Flathead has drastically changed over the last decade. There are new jobs, new development, new demands and more people. But we continue to work hard to stay here. We continue to reinvent ourselves. And we survive.
What I quickly learned during those fledgling days of the Beacon was that I wasn’t alone. Everyone was trying to make it. Everyone needed support. And those relationships forged during the early years of this company I appreciate even more today.
We made it. Together. Thanks for the last 10 years.