There’s an official reason and an unofficial one. For the former, see our About page. For the classified version, keep reading.
I was looking for a new adventure when I began my reporting career. Yes, I realize this may seem contrary to some, as the concept of clacking away on a keyboard after making a litany of phone calls to pin down exactly where children can collect Easter eggs is not exactly the embodiment of “adventure.” To each his own.
As a freelance writer, I’d been collaboratively writing books and contributing to local and national blogs. After five years of that racket, I became frustrated with doing anything other than what I wanted: I wanted to write and have fun doing it. And I preferred to get paid doing it, dag nabit! Despite my parents’ work-is-supposed-to-suck mantra, I wasn’t buying it. Other people were having fun at work, so why couldn’t I?
Before I moved to Montana, I started making long-term plans for the next adventure. I simplified my life. I got rid of all debt, turned in my shiny, financed SUV and bought an old little pickup with low mileage and a large dent, avoided leases and other commitments, and saved $7 for a rainy day.
During the spring of 2015, I quit my managerial job at an automotive shop and determined to never work another regular gig until I have a writing job (this is where my $7 rainy day fund would come in handy). I spent the next six months sporadically applying to newspaper jobs all over the country while working on freelance assignments. In the afternoons — and some mornings — I practiced my cast and worked on my tan while kayaking on Lake Lanier.
I had submitted approximately 30 applications for entry-level newspaper positions by the time John Kelleher, managing editor at the Havre Daily News at the time, called me. By then I had a great tan. It was time to go to Montana.
“Montana? Who goes to Montana?”
My parents thought I was crazy. Did I know how cold Montana was? Colder than the old country, they continued. For my parents, warm climate was as good as any reason, including fleeing communist oppression, to leave the old country.
Dad, on the other hand, only wanted to know if there was internet in Montana.
I go to Montana, I answered. And yes, I’ve heard it can get cold. I was very interested to see if I’d prefer freezing temperatures to the 100-degree, humidity-soaked atmosphere of Hotlanta, I continued. As for internet, I heard it works sometime.
The plan was to stay in Havre only as long as necessary. Once I was finished with the next great American novel, or the next David McCullough-like biography, I’d move to a cabin in the North Carolina Smoky Mountains, a great hub from where I would access rivers to kayak, mountains to hike, game to hunt, and delicious barbecue and fried okra to devour.
But something unexpected happened.
For some folks, like Kelleher, news is like food. He’s a glutton for it, as he devours it daily and very often. Kelleher was reporting and editing before I was born. When I was a wee tadpole trying to find my way to conception, Kelleher was interviewing Mike Pence while working for the Herald-Bulletin in Anderson, Indiana. Kelleher’s cellphone vibrates and whistles with news updates every 30 seconds because he’s subscribed to every paper in the state, half the national papers, and for his source of unbiased international coverage, Pravda. By the time something has happened on the Hi-Line, Kelleher has already heard about it. Sometimes I think his little Lancer with the separated bumper has a flux capacitor underneath that pile of junk in the backseat.
I am not like Kelleher. I don’t have a time machine nor do I think all news is interesting. But I do like reporting. I like learning about the wheels of bureaucracy and whom they are crushing, or helping, in the process. I think it’s important for the public to know where taxes are going. I like having an excuse for meeting people as introverts are terrified of going up to people for no reason. And my favorite: I like telling stories. Some people live good stories. I prefer to let others do the adventuring and I can write about them in the safety of my office.
Anyway, the unexpected thing that happened in Havre.
The Hi-Line is like craft beer. You develop a taste for it, and in the process realize that watered down beer, despite its popularity, just doesn’t tickle the taste buds anymore. It took me some time to see the beauty in the rolling hills and the kaleidoscopic prairie sunsets. But as for one of Havre’s most popular mottos, “It’s the people,” that didn’t take long to figure out.
The grass-is-greener-on-the-other-side outlook is as old as cavities and taxes. Having been on the other side, I can say that while some patches appear greener, chances are they are high maintenance and often run through by lousy neighborhood kids looking for shortcuts.
I learned the issues and began caring about what happens here.
Another watershed moment is when I met my wonderful wife, Teresa, here. I wasn’t supposed to. I was supposed to leave after two years. But, as I learned long ago: It’s nice to have an intended destination, but be open to veering off the path. You never know what treasure you’ll find. (This sort of reminds of the time I got lost in Minnesota in a town called Sauk Centre, where I had the best Panini ever, only after giving up and resigning to settle down there. Needless to say, I eventually charged my phone, accessed Google maps and found my way back to the highway.)
Teresa, as some know, loves it here. Sometimes she throws things at me because I’m not as enthusiastic about Havre as she is. I’ve tried explaining to her stoicism is in my nature and my excitement has limits. Teresa grew up surrounded by majestic mountains on all sides, yet she finds north central Montana more beautiful than Salt Lake City. She also really likes the people here because they are authentic.
Life evolves, work dynamics shift, priorities change, and one day we find ourselves wanting more, and less, of some things.
Work at the newspaper wasn’t fun anymore. And my goal to never dread coming to work again was in peril. If I wanted to be like the majority of the American work force I could’ve saved myself a long drive and fuel costs and stay in Atlanta.
We started The Herald because we not only want to contribute news to our adopted community, but we want to have fun and do things our way. Sometimes the best thing you can do is give your ideas a run and see if you fall flat on your face. It’s the American dream.
The Hi-Line is our home. We choose to stay here. We’ve all had opportunities to leave since getting here. As transplants, we understand how uniquely genuine and heartwarming this community is and how subtlety beautiful the landscape is.
We’d like to do our part in making the community better. That being said, we are aware that some people will not always be thrilled with what we do. News reporting can be messy. But we will never write something serious without doing our due diligence and concluding it’s something the community must know.
The Hi-Line community has some challenges. It also has a lot of wonderful people rising up to the task and addressing those challenges. Our job is to unearth, or to further explore, all of that in accurate, unbiased, professional, and, at times, even fun, ways.
We want to tell the good, the bad, the ugly, and the totally awesome.