By: Nu Yang
Ed Kemmick has been a newspaper editor and reporter since 1980, spending the majority of his journalism career at the Billings (Mont.) Gazette. Over the years, he covered the city beat, wrote a weekly column and even maintained his own blog for the paper, but as he watched the industry weather cutbacks and losses, Kemmick realized he “didn’t want to be the last man standing.” So, the 58-year-old journalist left newspapers and started Last Best News, an independent online news site dedicated to telling the story and covering the culture, people and places of Billings and Eastern Montana. The site launched in February at lastbestnews.com.
With the help of social media, Kemmick said news has been getting out about the site, and it shows on its Google Analytics report. Since the site debuted, there have been 15,000 unique visitors a month.
According to Kemmick, with daily papers like the Gazette cutting back on coverage in the area, Last Best News wants to “fill in the gaps.”
“Our main goal is to get out and cover Eastern Montana,” he said. “There are so many stories to tell from news to human interest.”
By using a different platform, it has allowed Kemmick to explore writing in a different voice not found in his traditional newspaper writing, such as in first-person. He continues to put out a column online and says he writes about 80 percent of the content. He posts at least six new stories a week. His staff includes a photographer and a few contributors.
“What makes Eastern Montana unique is its character,” Kemmick said. “There’s a remote, small town mindset, but you can go out for one story and come back with three more ideas.”
Even with the small town mindset as Kemmick described, he also sees a lot of crossover interest between large cities like Billings and the smaller surrounding communities. He said there is also a lot of interest in stories concerning the area’s oil industry.
When he’s not writing, Kemmick is focused on keeping the site running. That means understanding the business side of things. He’s already sold six months of advertising and he plans to keep the site free to readers.
“You just can’t charge for this kind of content,” he said. “I want to expand advertising, so I can pay my writers more, and there’s always the donation button.”
As journalism continues to be reinvented, Kemmick said it shouldn’t just be the younger generation’s task to understand the web. “Even an old dinosaur like me can do something like this.