Beginning this week, readers of the Flathead Beacon can expect to see a story each week accompanied by the header icon “Graying Pains: Opportunities & Challenges in the West’s Oldest State.” The launch piece of the Graying Pains project is on page 16 of this issue, published with an explanatory introduction.
Graying Pains is a six-month series of weekly stories and audio broadcasts produced by the Montana Fourth Estate Project, a collaboration among 15 newspapers, Yellowstone Public Radio and the University of Montana School of Journalism and supported by the Montana Newspaper Association and Solutions Journalism Network. Montana Free Press (MTFP) is overseeing and coordinating the project.
Described in its tagline as “a statewide collaboration of journalists working together to give Montanans more of the story,” the Montana Fourth Estate Project formed last year “to leverage the resources of statewide media to provide coordinated, in-depth coverage of important social issues to readers in communities big and small, rural and urban, all across the state.” Graying Pains is the collaborative’s inaugural effort.
From now into August, Graying Pains will release one story each week exploring issues related to the state’s aging population. Montana is the oldest state west of the Mississippi, “and demographic projections show the state growing collectively older as more Montanans enter their senior years,” according to MTFP’s intro. “The economic, cultural, and personal impacts of that trend present the state and its residents with new challenges and, with those challenges, opportunities,” MTFP states.
Each participating newspaper, including the Beacon, is reporting and publishing at least one story, while Yellowstone Public Radio (YPR) will publish audio broadcasts. The release date isn’t yet confirmed for the Beacon’s story, which will focus on efforts to combat elder financial exploitation. We also pitched in reporting and photography for next week’s piece by The Boulder Monitor.
The idea behind “solutions journalism” is for news entities to identify community issues and then investigate how other communities, elsewhere in the country or perhaps in other countries, have responded to those issues. In this case, “Graying Pains hopes to point the way toward policies and innovations that can help Montana, and Montanans, improve with age.”
The Solutions Journalism Network is a national nonprofit based in New York that encourages and facilitates a solutions-oriented approach to newspaper reporting. In 2017-2018, the SJN organized the Montana Gap Project, a six-month series addressing rural economic development and mental health care. The two-part series was produced by a collaborative of 13 Montana newsrooms, providing a model for the Graying Pains series.
The Beacon didn’t participate in the Montana Gap Project but published a series independently in 2018 about the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women with grant funding from the SJN. The Beacon also built a website to house the series.
Graying Pains’ participating newsrooms represent all corners of Montana and all sizes of publication: Valley Journal, Glendive Ranger-Review, Seeley Swan Pathfinder, Northern Plains Independent, The Boulder Monitor, Missoulian, Miles City Star, The Madisonian, Lone Peak Lookout, Helena Independent Record, Choteau Acantha, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, YPR, and the Billings Gazette.
Given this geographic range, the project will give readers a broad array of perspectives and insights into the state’s diverse communities. Montana isn’t a monolith, nor is aging. The hope is that Graying Pains will demonstrate that potential solutions to our pressing issues are just as varied and, perhaps, unexpected.