Reporter’s notebook: Twitter lessons learned and a new day with a new start

Martin Kidston

When I was a young Marine, I once told a gunnery sergeant where to stick it when he flippantly asked me to spell the word sergeant. He was sure I couldn’t spell it, and at the time he was correct.

When I went to college a few years later at the University of Montana and learned to spell the word sergeant (among other things), I put my foot in my mouth for other reasons, saying things I probably should not have. If you see a pattern, you’re right.

Such missteps weren’t new. Growing up, I was told more than once to “not let my alligator mouth outsize my canary ass.” It was an odd way of urging me to think before I speak, or not bite off more than I could chew. I’ve gotten better over the years, tempering my words and my response to things that deserve a response. Anymore, I usually let it slide, knowing there will come another day, and with each new day, a new beginning.

But last week, I violated my own rule when a social media troll called the Missoula Current out on Twitter. It had been a long day and I responded poorly, breaking my standards of social media conduct. It led to a torrent of replies from our cross-town competitor and by the end of the night, we all looked rather foolish.

I’ve since apologized to said competitor for the part I played in allowing the conversation to escalate the way it did in full view of the Twitter universe. While I’m sure the troll and those like him who enjoy instigating such conversations will reappear, my response next time will be more measured.

There won’t be a response.

I spent the weekend reviewing this episode and why I reacted the way I did, because I want to get better. If you know anything about me, you know I’m generally easy going, though I’ve never been accused of being nonchalant. I take what we’ve built at the Missoula Current pretty seriously.

And if you know anything about the Missoula Current, you know we’ve boot-strapped this business since it was founded in 2015 with the help of readers and our partners who share a common vision. We’ve worked long hours, sometimes seven days a week, with a small but motivated team to produce a respectable publication focused on Missoula – a publication Missoula can be proud of.

Our pageviews are at a record high and we’ve established a reputation for solid reporting and strong stories focused on issues of local importance. It has taken three years to get this far and we’ve had to prove ourselves from Day One, every step of the way.

It’s been difficult at times, given the challenge of limited resources and growing a funding model that can support and sustain Montana’s largest independent news company and those who work for it. We’re not always perfect, but through fits and starts, reboots and partnerships, we’ve found our path and we’re proud of what we do because we do it for the community.

As I’ve said many times over the past three years, information makes Missoula stronger. It entices an exchange of ideas and dialogue, most of it positive and forward leaning.

But with any strong media company, there’s more to the business than reporting the news. To be good, you need leadership, not in the style of a former Marine like me, but in the style of Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., and perhaps Bill Gates. This takes time to learn, and it starts with a more tempered response to criticism, even if that criticism is off the mark.

I’m learning, and if each day brings a new beginning, then each lesson brings a chance to do things differently when faced with a similar decision in the face of criticism. At any rate, I felt compelled to say such things, and I want to thank you for the support you’ve given us these past three years.

If I can learn to spell sergeant (who spells it like that anyway?), then I can learn to mute ridiculous comments on Twitter and go on enjoying a spring evening in Missoula.