Kidston: Missoula Current closes online comments, but…

Back in 1994 after leaving the Marine Corps, I moved to Great Falls and got a job at the oil refinery in Black Eagle. Needing an income, it was a good start to Montana living, giving me a toe-hold in a place I only knew from my mother’s letters over the years.

By the end of that year, however, I decided to go to college, something I once vowed I didn’t need, much less wanted to do. With some initial trepidation, I moved to Missoula in time for the fall semester and went to work as a mediocre student (ask retired professor Lois Welch) at the University of Montana while holding down midnight jobs at the Brooks Street Motor Inn, the Claim Jumper Casino and, eventually, Mulligans on Higgins Avenue.

Four years later, I’d stumble into a career as a poorly paid reporter, starting at the Silver State Post in Deer Lodge. I’d go on to spend 16 years with Lee Enterprises, working at the Helena Independent Record, the Billings Gazette and lastly, the Missoulian.

With nothing more than ambition and a dose of perseverance, I launched the Missoula Current in late 2015. While the pay may be worse than my days as a corporate reporter, our independent endeavor remains on the upward climb, thanks to the support of the Missoula community and our readers, who logged on for a collective 104,000 page views last month.

Along the way, we’ve made a number of changes to the Missoula Current, launching Montana Today and Missoula Business Weekly among them. We’ve also unveiled a new webpage, designed right here in Missoula by Cedar Mountain Software.

We’ve formed new local partnerships while maintaining those that have helped us grow. All this while working to bring our readers the best local coverage in Missoula. We may be small, but like a marmot, or maybe an alley cat (pick your spirit animal), we’re feisty and we’re here to stay.

We’ve also done away with comments. This occurred last month just before I left for Texas to see my mother for what will likely be the last time. As expected, this change didn’t sit well with some readers, and I apologize for not announcing the change sooner.

In a nutshell, our decision to discontinue comments on Missoula Current stemmed from a few simple facts. One, much of the discourse had already shifted to our social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. Two, like other news organizations, we simply realized that too many comments on our site had become uncivil, rarely adding to constructive public debate.

Calling someone fat and stupid adds little to the social dialogue. This is not an infringement on anyone’s right to free speech. Rather, we’re just not going to provide the platform for a handful of individuals to spew their bile.

With the change now behind us and our readers still commenting on our social media channels, the Missoula Current team is full steam ahead. Getting the new webpage launched was a large undertaking, but it’s done barring a few final tweaks.

Seeking a catchy slogan over the past few months, I’ve often joked that we’re having a sale. That’s right, we’re 100 percent off all summer long. That discount will continue into the fall – no coupon required.

Unlike our competitor, who is happily perched on Higgins Avenue with a pricey view of the Clark Fork River, we’re free to all readers, all day long, and we plan to keep it that way. Our readers – those who believe that factual and timely news aids in the democratic process – can help us keep it free.

As for the last change, we’ll be launching a new way for readers to support free local news with a small monthly contribution, so long as they’re willing and able.

Five dollars a month is a latte at best, but I would argue it goes farther as an investment in Missoula’s last best independent news source, one that’s growing faster than I would have predicted when I quit my dayjob 18 months ago and convinced our team to join me in the effort.

We still welcome feedback in our emails and we still approve comments to our social media channels. The support of our readers who want and expect more from their local media have taken us this far. Together, I’m looking forward to seeing what tomorrow may hold.

Thank you for a great 18 months, and here’s to 18 more. And tell Lois Welch I learned something after all.

Martin Kidston is a Marine Corps veteran and University of Montana graduate. For more than 17 years, he worked at several newspapers, including the Billings Gazette, where he ran the Wyoming bureau, and the Missoulian, where he covered local government and higher education. He founded the Missoula Current in 2015.