Reporter’s Notebook: Someone once said and what the last three years have taught me

When the Missoula Current launched three-and-a-half years ago this month, it was a micro operation with an oversized vision and no budget.

Not even a bank account.

I paid $12 to secure a domain and another $500 to have the bare bones of a website developed. I bought a camera and got Internet. I already had a computer. I paid the state fee to register the assumed business name. I paid again to have it listed as an LLC.

I quit my job and didn’t get paid for almost a year. I was hungry and a little cranky. I was asked if I’d gone mad.

The “we” in this equation started that first year, and as our budget began to grow, the “we” turned into a team. Now 42 months into this endeavor, we’ve applied our reader contributions and advertising revenue to grow and sustain our reporting team while improving our platform, keeping the local in local.

I even found time to get my eyes checked. I am happy to say that all I need are basic reading glasses. And perhaps a little more time in the day.

I am pleased and somewhat surprised by our success, but I underestimated many things along the way. I underestimated the role we’d come to play in the community. I didn’t foresee the support and encouragement that keeps us motivated when times are hard, or the partnerships we’d form over time.

I underestimated my tolerance for criticism and the time it would take to get this far.

But as with any endeavor, you learn as you go. You make adjustments and you roll with the punches. You get better and, perhaps, you learn the art of tolerance.

In the early days, someone wiser and more experienced told me that we often learn more about ourselves when running a small business, where you’re left to succeed or fail on your own merits. Risk has a way of teaching. There’s something in vulnerability that opens our eyes.

When we launched the Missoula Current, I vowed that we’d always be candid and accessible, hoping to change what has traditionally been the ink-stained wall separating traditional media from the people and the city it covers. There’s little profit in what we do, and the stars aren’t exactly aligned in the media’s favor these days. There are challenges to be sure, but there are rewards, and our readers stand foremost among them.

Over the past few years, I’ve taken pride in watching our younger reporters, each turned out by the University of Montana, grow stronger and more confident. There is pleasure in seeing how a team of like-minded people can gel around a similar goal. It’s rewarding to see the stories we cover generate discussions in the community, or get referenced before the City Council during public comment.

The best days come when people call you with a story to tell, trusting that you’ll tell it true and straight.

But still, I wake up cranky and a little gruff, knowing the day ahead will be as long as it is unpredictable. I wake up wishing we had more resources and time to do what we do, and do it even better. I wake up wishing we were the big kid on the block, not the scrappy, upstart media outlet that we remain.

But a little sand in the face never hurt anyone, and I have a thing for underdogs – I always root against the Crimson Tide. I don’t mind having to prove our worth each new day. I’ve learned that criticism can make us stronger, so long as it’s handled properly.

I’ve learned the value of teamwork and having the community’s trust. We aren’t perfect, nor do we pretend to be. But I can assure you, now aided by my trusty reading glasses, we will focus more acutely on getting as close to perfection as we can.

If you boil it down, I just wanted to thank Missoula and our wider Montana readers for getting us here. We’ll continue to drink our milk and do our curls, and with your continued support, we’ll continue to give Missoula a trusted option in local news.