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Kelleher column: It's the end of a great ride


Last updated 8/5/2016 at 4:34am

A couple of months ago, Fortune magazine did one of its surveys on the worst jobs in America.

For the third year in a row, newspaper reporter was listed as the worst job you could hold.

The low pay, long hours, financial trouble of newspapers, stress of deadlines and almost always displeasing at least somebody were cited as reasons for my profession’s low job satisfaction.

Today is my last day as a reporter. I’m retiring after 44 years as a reporter/editor in small towns from New Hampshire to Havre in Montana.

Fortune magazine is wrong. I think it’s been a great way to spend a life.

I have told the story and helped other reporters tell the story of our communities — the sorrows, heartbreaks, the warts, the joys, the sense of community.

I’ve covered the murders, the massive explosions, the political corruption.

But, mostly, I’ve covered events that make small communities so interesting — the community festivals, the school board elections, the high school graduations and the special people who give of themselves for their communities. Telling people about the special moments in their community has been a real treat and an honor.

On the month that Fortune told me how wrong I had been about my profession, this is what I was lucky enough to cover:

• I got to report on a routine high school graduation at Box Elder. One of the graduates, Brandon The Boy, had, to put it mildly, a rough life. Family members were addicted to drugs and had served time in jail. He lived in one of the most financially depressed areas of Montana. By all standards, this young man grew up with not much of a chance for success. But through brains, talent and tons of determination, he turned out to be a star football and basketball player. He is headed to college on a basketball scholarship. He was speaking that day as the valedictorian of his class. He can do anything he wants with his life, but he promises to return to his reservation and help his people. He urged fellow students to avoid drugs and booze. I got to report on that. What an inspiration.

• I got to work with a reporter as he began to uncover the story of a secretive company that is buying up all kinds of land through tax sales in Havre and elsewhere in Montana for reasons they wouldn’t talk about. We couldn’t tell people what was going on, but we could let them know what was happening.

• I interviewed Pam Hillery, a prominent Havre woman who is fighting ALS with courage. She has been active in all kinds of community organizations over the years, always giving of herself. Pam taught us how to live, and now she is teaching us how to die. She has written local and national blogs and newspaper columns telling of her disease and its affect on her body.

She told me of her love of her family and her community and what she hopes to see before she dies. Most of us would be whining and feeling sorry for ourselves. Pam is raising awareness about and money for the fight against ALS. She is fighting for adoption of a street repair program for the city she loves. She wants to see her family succeed. And her passion for politics remains.

Because of her love of politics and her community, she said she hopes to stay alive long enough to see Hillary Clinton and Jacob Bachmeier elected, she told me.

Many people told me they cried reading the story. I know I cried writing it. She’s an inspiration.

So sorry, Fortune magazine. I don’t feel like I’ve wasted 44 years in a meaningless, dreadful job. I can’t think of any profession that offers the kinds of rewards I have had.

So now there will be a change in my lifestyle. I have lived in towns from one end of the country to another, but I saved the best for last. I’m a Montanan now, and I’ll be hanging around, volunteering for some of the great organizations I’ve covered, and attending some of the events I’ve written about over the years.

And some of the people you already know, Stacy Mantle, Alex Ross, Tim Leeds, Pam Burke and Paul Dragu will continue chronicling the events of Havre and the Hi-Line just as Havre Daily News people have for the last century and just as they will in some form or another for the next century. It is Havre’s most enduring institution.

And there are some people you may not know who have had a great deal to do with the Havre Daily News mission. Robb Hicks and Gary Stevenson are two Wyoming newspaper investors who own the Havre Daily News.

They like to make money. I can think of about 250 easier ways to make money these days than owning a newspaper, but they have it in their blood.

I’m always the envy of editors at Montana Newspaper Association meetings from editors who have been through the trauma of slashing their staffs to meet budget constraints. Our staff has gotten larger over the years. Gary and Robb have the strange belief that the best people to put out a newspaper in Havre are people in Havre, not people in Washington, D.C., or Davenport, Iowa. No cookie-cutter journalism here. If you like or dislike something in our paper, call us, not corporate.

So, thank you Havre. It’s been a great honor to chronicle the history of this very special place. It’s been a great ride. Hopefully I will see you around in another capacity.

(John Kelleher can be reached at 406-390-0798 or at [email protected])


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