President's note 

The next 21 years

When I came to the Indy in 1997, the remains of a composition camera were heaped in the hallway, and a grimy page waxer sat nearby on a shelf, vestiges of the not-so-distant past when the paper was composed on paste-up boards instead of a computer screen. Back then, we still used a darkroom full of nasty chemicals to print photos. In my first issue as publisher, we gave a pair of New Crystal Theater tickets to a 59-year-old woman who placed a personal ad seeking a gent "who is not ready for an appointment with Dr. Kevorkian yet."

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The world has changed dramatically since the Indy launched 21 years ago. It was easier then to define ourselves in opposition to conventional media like the Missoulian, which I used to consider a Goliath of corporate avarice. Nowadays, the Missoulian and the Indy are both little more than scrappy Davids caught in technological and economic tide that's got the whole world darn near spinning backward.

What had looked like a rich landscape with ample resources to support ambitious journalism now looks like a digital thicket, where the rules are tangled, the path obscured and our steps forward are short and uncertain.

It's going to be a rugged crossing from here to open ground, but it's one that all newspapers, all media for that matter, and many other businesses will have to make in the coming years. It's going to require creativity, tremendous perseverance, and above all, insistent focus on the essentials. For us, that's telling stories about the lives people lead in western Montana, doing it in a way that seems smart, authentic and enjoyable.

We labor in the knowledge business, and the ultimate insight we deliver is a better understanding of your neighbor—what she wants, what he's going through, what they're saying when the hearing's called to order. And then there's the whole question of who's fun and interesting. We try to address that too, because life's a gas, or at least it ought to be. When you read the Indy, you should feel a little hint of—dare I say it—community spirit. Not just the kind that flutters like a cheerful banner on a street light. I mean the kind that shoves, sweats, weeps and binds. I'd like to think that when we do our jobs well, we transmit soul.

And when we do our work poorly, you'll notice, because we'll make the world seem dumber, meaner, duller and more obvious than it seemed last week. The opposite of soul is numbness.

Imagining the Indy 21 years from now turns out to be a wistful exercise for me, because I won't be a part of it anymore. I'll be 66 in 2033, and I've got other plans for myself between now and then, so somebody else will be calling the tune.

But assuming that all eyes remain fixed on the ball, I can foresee some likely developments in the way we operate. Naturally, more and more readers will find us online. Right now, perhaps one-third of you get your news on a screen. It will be more than two-thirds by then. That's a big challenge, because online advertising presently costs only a fraction as much as print advertising, and we've got to find money somewhere.

To combat the erosion of revenue, we'll develop very effective ways to deliver advertising to exactly the right people at exactly the right time, via their mobile devices. We'll shift away from the typical mass media strategy of selling our entire audience based on its size and general character, and instead offer the chance to target each individual audience member. Most of you are going to volunteer for it by engaging with us online, and believe it or not, you're actually going to like it.

The social tools advanced by Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and the like will evolve and proliferate. And our publications will incorporate them fully, allowing you to interact with us and each other in ways that I can barely imagine right now. What we currently call our website will become a hub of dialogue and commerce, anchored by your opinions, local businesses and the compelling content we create.

We'll be engaging you more directly as well, with events that bring the community together to convive, to learn and to transact business—all a part of knitting each one of you more deeply into the fabric of our activities, and knitting us more deeply into yours.

And we'll diversify our content. As the distinction between print and electronic media dissolves, you'll get more video, unedited recordings and source documents from us. We'll take full advantage of all the gee-whiz hyperlinking awesomeness of the web to put the world at your fingertips.

And to send it over the top, we'll form alliances with the other media to maximize our impact. I wouldn't be surprised if relaxed federal rules eventually make it possible for us to work hand-in-hand with a TV station. And chances are we'll forge a mutually beneficial relationship with the Missoulian, our common interests trumping the competitive impulses.

It's a different world than it was 21 years ago.

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At the core though, the Indy will continue to be about you, your neighbors and the community we're building together. Other people, it turns out, are the ultimate thrill. We'll be there to help you recognize each other and enjoy the ride.

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