Havre Herald: Independent online news site launches on Hi-Line

The Havre Herald is a for-profit, ad-supported newspaper that provides free content but encourages donations from readers — the same model used by Last Best News and Missoula Current. (Teresa Getten/Havre Herald)

(Last Best News) Montana has a new, independent online newspaper — The Havre Herald, which aims to cover the news and tell the stories of people in the central Hi-Line region of the state.

The online publication was launched Monday by Paul Dragu and Teresa Getten, a married couple who worked together on the Havre Daily News. They are being aided by John Kelleher, the former Daily News managing editor who hired Dragu and Getten and retired a little less than two years ago.

The Havre Herald is a for-profit, ad-supported newspaper that provides free content but encourages donations from readers — the same model used by Last Best News and Missoula Current.

Dragu has been pleased by the reception given the fledgling publication.

“The reaction seems to have all been really positive,” he said, with 400 “likes” on the newspaper’s Facebook page in two days, and a total of 1,700 views by Tuesday. “Based on social media alone, it seems to have gone better that we anticipated,” he said.

The newspaper received a donation on the first day, Dragu said, in addition to a couple of advertising inquiries.

At this early stage, Dragu is the site’s main reporter, Getten is the photographer and Kelleher is a contributing writer and adviser. They have already run crime news, a guest column by a local judge, a profile of a just-retired professor at MSU Northern and an introductory column from Dragu.

In that piece, Dragu tells how he arrived in Havre from Atlanta in the fall of 2015 expecting to stay “only as long as necessary.” But then something happened he hadn’t planned on.

“The Hi-Line is like craft beer,” he wrote. “You develop a taste for it, and in the process realize that watered down beer, despite its popularity, just doesn’t tickle the taste buds anymore. It took me some time to see the beauty in the rolling hills and the kaleidoscopic prairie sunsets.”

And he met Getten, whom he would later marry, and who was even more enthusiastic about Havre and the Hi-Line than he was.

Getten, a native of Salt Lake City, said she and Dragu both loved working for Kelleher, “the best boss I ever had in my 40 years.” When Kelleher retired in August 2016, Dragu and Getten said they still enjoyed their jobs at the Daily News, but started thinking about ways to do more fulfilling work.

Getten quit first, to open her own photography studio in Havre, and Dragu quit only recently, when plans for The Havre Herald were beginning to jell. For a while, Dragu said, he thought of starting a print paper, but Getten reasoned that it would be easier and cheaper to publish online, as did Kelleher.

Dragu said none of the partners has any ill will toward the Havre Daily News.

“We just wanted to try some things and have some fun doing it, and do it our way,” he said. Rather than directly competing with the Daily News, Dragu said, “it would be more like we’re adding to more complete coverage.”

He said the Herald will concentrate on longer-form stories, personality profiles and investigative reporting, not bread-and-butter meeting coverage and the like.

Kelleher, a working journalist since 1972, said he was a small-town editor around the country for many years before going to work at the Havre Daily News, where he was the managing editor for seven years. He said he intends to continue as an unpaid contributor and adviser.

“I just think it’s going to be fun and we’re going to have a fun time doing it,” he said. Although he’s not particularly tech-savvy, Kelleher said, the transition to digital-only journalism has not been difficult.

“I’ve really taken to it,” he said. “I’m not like your average old-timer.”

Dragu said Getten’s business is successful enough that they can concentrate on producing solid content and building a readership in these early days of the Herald. As they attract advertisers and donors, he said, their next hire will be someone with a background in ad sales and business, and after that another reporter, maybe a part-timer to start.

As for the name of their online publication, Dragu said it was only after he came up with it that he found our there had been a Havre Herald around the turn of the last century.

“It really was a coincidence,” he said. “It just happened that we liked the name.”