Martin Kidston, Editor/Publisher
Testing a new model for delivering local news
Interview by Dillon Sierra
Q: Mr. Kidston, the first question I wanted to ask is why did you become a local journalist, instead of a big corporate journalist for Fox News, CNN or MSNBC? Was it a choice, a calling, or simply a matter of necessity?
A: It was probably more a necessity and destiny. I kind of fell into journalism after college, back in 1998, and I’ve been doing it ever since, all of it in Montana and Wyoming, outside of an occasional trip to Guatemala or somewhere else. So I’ve always been a so-called local journalist, working for a local news organization.
Q: Are you from Montana and Missoula, and is that why you decided to come back and start your career here?
A: Actually, I’m from Denver, Colorado, and I spent six years in the Marine Corps. When I got out of the Marines, my mother was living in Great Falls, so I moved to Montana, started working in a oil refinery, then decided I wanted to go to college and came to the University of Montana.
I didn’t study journalism, but I got a job as a journalist at a small paper over in Deer Lodge after college, then quickly went to other papers in the region from there. I left the Missoulian a little over a year and a half ago, to start the Missoula Current, because I saw some opportunity for a new news organization.
Q: What sort of opportunities did you see in being the editor and owner of your own paper, as opposed to working for one of these established news organizations?
A: I believe that the media are changing rather dramatically and rather quickly, and I didn’t necessarily believe that Lee Enterprises, who owned the Missoulian and some of the other Montana papers, was doing the job that I thought could be done. Maybe there was a little bit of ego involved, and if that’s the case that’s unfortunate, but we’ve been successful, and I believe we’re having an impact both in our growing readership and the type of stories we cover, how we cover those stories, our objectivity.
I think some of these established news organizations have been around for a long time, and once you earn a reputation, it’s hard to undo that reputation. I respect the work they do and just thought there was an opportunity to do something a little bit differently.
Q: When working on the Current, do you do anything specifically, to get readers to either read your paper, listen to any audio you put out, as opposed to the others?
A: Well, that is the challenge for us, because we don’t put out an actual print product, which is both a blessing and a curse. Getting our content out there is 100 percent dependent upon us being very aggressive on social media and all the other platforms we could possibly find. We use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram; we have a YouTube page, we’re trying everything, and it’s been successful and we’ve continued to grow our audience being aggressive and regular on how we post stuff and when we post things.
Q: How do you apply your paper to say a video platform such as YouTube when from my understanding you’re mainly a print feature on the internet?
A: Well, that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to start a digital product, because the digital product is not limited to words and black-and-white ink. We’re trying to do more video content. This is an opportunity for us that I think sets us apart in Missoula. Of course, resources are limited for us right now as we’re still relatively young and small, but we have been doing that more, and we’ve been primarily doing it through YouTube, and so our YouTube following is growing, and the types of videos we put out is growing.
Q: If you could tell one thing to your readers, viewers, listeners, about how journalism and local journalism works, what would you tell them?
A: I think local journalism is just as important as national journalism, or what you see on CNN, or reading the New York Times. They have a role to play and we have a role to play. If it weren’t for local journalists, the local communities would be living in a vacuum. So I think it’s fundamental and very important to have local journalists who know their communities, who know their local leaders, who know the issues, to report on those issues. You eliminate that and I can guarantee you Yahoo News is not gonna cover Missoula; the New York Times is not gonna cover Missoula.
The Missoula Current, and the Missoulian, and the Kaimin, and the Missoula Independent, and our TV stations, they cover Missoula, and without them, most people wouldn’t really know or understand what was going on. They wouldn’t be able to make informed decisions; they wouldn’t be able to hold their local government accountable; they wouldn’t have as much say in local issues and how those issues play out. I think it’s important to have local journalists, and I guess I do sometimes take offense at some of the national media looking down on local journalists as if they’re somehow less accomplished or less significant.
The city of Missoula, and Helena, and Billings, they don’t live in a vacuum. They’re part of the national equation; they’re part of the global equation. So, relating and taking those national stories, or those national issues, those global issues, and applying them to the local level makes us part of the larger world. I think local journalists are well suited to do that.