Commentary

Ehrlick: Introducing the Daily Montanan. You’re always welcome here.

January 5, 2021 6:00 am

The Daily Montanan staff. Darrell Ehrlick (left), Keith Schubert, Arren Kimbel-Sannit, and Keila Szpaller (right). (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan.)

Nearly a year ago, I left The Billings Gazette fairly certain about two things — first, that we needed more journalists, not fewer, and that my run in the profession was done.

Like so many things in life, I was half right. 

We still need more journalists: One study recently reported that nearly eight in every 10 journalism jobs has vanished since 2000. It’s not just that fewer people are sitting in the briefing room of the White House, it’s that there are fewer journalists sitting in the city council chambers across America or at your local school board meetings. One area that has gotten short-shrift is state government — not receiving the spotlight of the White House and too far away for local reporters outside the capitol. The Daily Montanan is a new organization that wants to correct that.

Yet, for everything that has changed, one thing still remains true: People — politicians especially — tend to act differently (and better) when they’re being watched. It’s not that every elected official is crooked — it’s the brownie principle: Take one small, polite square when you’re among company, but finish the whole pan of brownies if you’re home alone binge-watching Netflix.

During my eight-month hiatus from journalism I was asked more than ever, “What’s going to happen with journalism?”

Often I would reply, “If I knew, I’d probably still be in it.”

The truth was even more brutal: Declining ad revenue, cuts in staff and days of print … you’ve heard all of this before. Yet while traditional media continued its tumultuous struggle, there was something else going on that was inspirational. Ironically, though, because there were fewer and fewer reporters to cover it, the story hasn’t exactly taken off.

What is happening with journalism is the advent of new media organizations, many nonprofit, that are trying to backfill some of the gaping reporting holes left in communities after other media retreat. States Newsroom and the Daily Montanan are part of that emerging story. 

We exist to help report on news that affects Montanans lives. We are four journalists who are dedicated to our craft and supported by a network of fellow journalists who are working tirelessly in 19 other states. We are dedicated to the idea that what goes on in state government and around this Big Sky Country has interest and needs reporting. We will set out to deliver this news to all the readers on our website, free of charge without advertising or corporate control. We will offer everything we produce to other media so that those organizations can channel resources into local news and spend their precious resources even more wisely. Where competition used to reign, now collaboration is the goal. So whether it’s politics, environment, education, healthcare or the occasional feature, we want to be part of the solution and where you come for trusted news.

But just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s without cost. States Newsroom and the Daily Montanan are a new model, one that will rely on philanthropy and donations. If you like what you read and if you want to ensure that we’re here for a long time, please consider making a donation. You can even set up a recurring donation that will ensure we’ll be here long into the future, too.

In Montana, we love to talk about freedom. It’s hard not to when you can see space and sky for as far as you can see. But our way of life, and this place I am fiercely proud to call home is dependent on all of us preserving and conserving what we have. That takes information, discussion and collaboration — all things the Daily Montana believes. 

We have a motto: Truth. Transparency. Trust. Those aren’t just shiny, well-intentioned words. They are our North Star, our guiding principles. We believe in relentless coverage of this state, which means digging for the truth, holding those in power to accountability by transparency, and in doing so, engendering the trust of the citizens in their leaders, and more importantly, a trust in us as an indispensable, reliable news source.

I jumped at the opportunity to cover this state again because I believe we need more journalists, not fewer. And I believe the only reliable antidote for misinformation, disinformation and no information is relentless reporting by people who are passionate about stories.

Here’s a bit more about me and the rest of the Daily Montanan staff:

Darrell Ehrlick

Daily Montanan Editor-in-Chief Darrell Ehrlick. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan.)

I was born and raised in Billings — getting my start in newspapers by delivering The Billings Gazette, a paper that I would eventually edit. My great-grandparents learned to read English, in part, by reading The Gazette. Now, I am the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan. I have been a journalist, author, historian and teacher, and have lived and practiced in North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. After I came to Montana in 2013, The Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. In 2016, I was honored to receive the Veterans of Foreign Wars highest media honor for the series “Vietnam Voices.’’ Publicly available and now incorporated into the Library of Congress, “Vietnam Voices” chronicled the experiences of nearly 80 veterans from Montana. While serving as the editor of The Winona (Minn.) Daily News, I received the prestigious “Friend of Newspapers” award for successfully revamping the state’s public access and information laws. During my time with Lee Enterprises, the parent company of The Gazette, I won Lee President’s Awards for coverage including devastating flooding of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and led an initiative to provide in-depth coverage of missing, murdered and indigenous women in Montana. In addition, I have been honored to win statewide awards for commentary, including best editorial and best columnist in Montana. My books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” I have taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

Keila Szpaller

Daily Montanan Deputy Editor Keila Szpaller. (Photo by Eric Seidel for the Daily Montanan.)

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining the Daily Montanan, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

Keith Schubert

Daily Montanan reporter Keith Schubert. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montanan.)

Keith Schubert is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. Keith was born and raised in Wisconsin and graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2018. He has worked at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and most recently, the Asbury Park Press, covering everything from local craft fairs to crime and courts to municipal government to the Minnesota state legislature. In his free time, he enjoys cheering on Wisconsin sports teams and exploring small businesses.

Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit poses for a portrait.
Daily Montanan reporter Arren Kimbel-Sannit. (Photo by Eric Seidle for the Daily Montana.)

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He’s also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more. 

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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