Martin Kidston

Covering contentious issues at the local level during a time of partisan division and political rancor is more challenging than it used to be. When those on the right disagree with a story, they cry “liberal rag.” When those on the left disagree, they cry “hack,” “wanker” and “liar” before launching personal attacks and insults across social media.

Lately, even members of the Missoula City Council have taken to slandering reporters by name on the public record. That's a new twist in the breakdown of decorum that used to reign supreme. In the old days, complaints were dealt with personally, not publicly, and politicians and reporters continued their clumsy but productive constitutional dance.

To be clear, this loss of decorum and respect only pertains to a small minority of council members, and only when they become the subject of legitimate news based on their words, actions or votes – you know, the same criteria applied to every elected official.

By and large, the majority of City Council is comprised of hard-working, honest people. They get their share of flak from the public, and that's unfortunate. Yet watching their votes and words week after week, year after year, meeting them for coffee or exchanging holiday greetings, a picture begins to emerge. The diligence of their planning and steady vision becomes clear, even if one doesn't always agree with it.

With them, the media has a strong working relationship and mutual respect. These officials are willing to answer challenging questions like adults, and for that I'm thankful.

But this isn't the direction I want this column to go. Rather, the Missoula Current is celebrating its ninth year in business. A former Marine and University of Montana graduate, I left my job with the Missoulian in 2015 – it's hard to believe it has been that long. My beard is trending gray and my cheaters increase in magnification every year. Even the cat is starting to act like an old man.

Thinking back on the Current's founding, we launched with the mantra that information should be free to the public, and it should be fair and balanced. I'm proud to say it's a mantra we maintain to this day, and our partnerships, growing readership and notes of encouragement are warming and endearing.

Our relationship with the University of Montana and its graduate program in journalism remains inspiring as well. Meeting students and accepting their pitch is a privilege for a guy like me, who never cared to learn how to diagram a sentence. And when I decided to apply myself, finally, I still remember what it was like trying to get a byline into a newspaper without being told I needed experience first.

Well, that was always awkward. How do you get experience without getting a chance? I take this to heart when working with young reporters who are looking to get a few stories under their belt to help pad their resume. For me, it's an honor and the opportunity to help is something I'm also thankful for.

But there are other things to be thankful for after nine years. Like the countless people I've sat down with to discuss an issue close to their heart. Or like Laura Lundquist, our knowledgeable and dedicated environmental reporter. Or Jim Harmon, who has brought readers weekly snippets on Montana's often humorous and sometimes dark history. Or Lisa Vachio, who took the books off my hands nearly eight years ago, saving me from math. She is now our publisher. Or Sherry Devlin, whose selfless help over a stretch of years gave us time to find our balance. Or William Munoz, who braves concerts of all volumes and football games of all weather to provide photos – a snippet of Missoula in time.

There are many others as well, and times are changing with technology. Both have shifted the public's mood in a way that's deep and oftentimes profound. Reporting has shifted with it, and the two will continue to evolve together.

Journalism is also an equal opportunity window and despite accusations from a handful of council members suggesting otherwise, we don't take sides. We apply the same level of scrutiny regardless of party. After nine years, the evidence of that is well documented.

On top of it all, the Missoula Current remains free to all, has seen its page views double over the last two years, and is poised to continue providing the same depth of consistent reporting on local issues as it has for the past nine years. Talk about evolution. That's something that's increasingly hard to find in Missoula.

The Missoula Current is your publication. It's the city's publication. If you care about the news, even if you don't always agree with it, keep reading. And if you can, consider becoming a sustaining contributor, or think about advertising your business. It helps pay our reporters, and it provides compensation to those aspiring young journalists looking for a start. It keeps the Current free and provides the news the city deserves.

Missoula, the collective place and its people, have made this possible. Let's keep it going for another nine years.

Martin Kidston is an award-winning journalist and the founding editor of the Missoula Current.