Prairie Lights: Inspired by Lee, a job posting of our own


This is the kind of reporter Last Best News is hoping to hire one of these days, assuming he is also a social media whiz. He looks as though he’s got the bourbon part down.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That’s why I’m posting a job description today in place of the regular column.

I’m really not in any position yet to take on an employee, but I was so impressed with the job descriptions posted by the Lee newspapers of Montana that I felt compelled to write my own.


Ed Kemmick

If I succeed in duplicating the lyricism, the hard-boiled poetry, the obscure-but-evocative prose of the Lee postings, perhaps a talented individual will salt this away and reach out to Last Best News at some future date, when I can afford to start hiring.

The Lee papers are looking to hire a couple of state reporters to replace Chuck Johnson and Mike Dennison, the longtime Capitol bureau reporters who were invited to apply for new jobs at vastly reduced salaries and for some reason decided instead to quit.

If you want to read the complete job descriptions, you can go here and here. But allow me to reprint my favorite parts, so you’ll understand what I’m aiming for.

The first description, for a “narrative and news feature” reporter, called for someone “who can unearth the journalistic treasures in the Treasure State. This person will work as part of a two-member team covering the state. This reporter needs to have a storytelling style that matches the unique nature of Montana, while having a narrative voice that’s as smooth as Neversweat Bourbon.”

Also, “Our state reporter who focuses on news features and narratives will realize that a tightly written talker is as important as a longer-format story in many cases.”

On top of that, candidates “must be digitally savvy enough to build an audience that spans the state. Mastery of digital tools will help capture the different angles of a story, including audio, video, still photography and social media in addition to news writing.”

The other job, for a reporter with a “data/investigative emphasis,” has some similar wording, but with a few twists: “We’re looking for a reporter who can not only work on investigative pieces or crunch numbers, but also isn’t afraid to leave the office to talk to people across the state. This reporter will be able to cover politics and government—and will be as comfortable doing it from the far-flung corners of the state as the Capitol press room in Helena.”

Stick-in-the-muds need not apply: “This team will understand that the daily smaller stories can be just as essential to our readers as the in-depth Sunday centerpiece. However, the team also will recognize that quarter-turn coverage of officials mired in government process is not the best use of resources and may not hold the attention span of a digital audience.”

So, in a similar spirit, here is a description of the reporter Last Best News hopes one day to hire:

Last Best News, one of Billings’ leading one-man digital newspapers, is looking for a reporter who can travel around the state like a prospector of olden times (though the preferred mode of transportation would be a car, not a mule), digging for stories that, metaphorically speaking, are nuggets of gold and silver, without degrading the environment.

The successful candidate will be able to spin a yarn as gritty as Butte tap water, as salty as what flows from Hi-Line faucets, as hefty as a Scoonie of beer at Tiny’s Tavern and as full of mystery and erotic longing as the pool water at the Sip ’n Dip Lounge.

But we are not looking for a reporter who has to write 10,000 goddamn words about every freaking fender bender he or she comes across. No, we are looking for a reporter who can write a tightly written talker about a fender bender, with special consideration given to the applicant who can explain to us exactly what a tightly written talker actually is.

We hope it goes without saying that we are also looking for a reporter who is digitally savvy, someone who completely understands all the functions of the iPhone, and who can then explain them, in layman’s terms, to the founding editor of Last Best News.

This reporter will also be able to produce videos that are short but utterly compelling, videos that have “viral sensation” written all over them, even if the subject is, God forbid, a city council meeting. The successful candidate will be able to boil down complex stories, even packages of stories, into 140-character Tweets that convey all of the information and drama contained in the original piece.

When we say “complex,” however, we are not referring to thumb-suckers, the kind of in-depth, explanatory, contextual reporting that was popular in the Dark Ages of journalism, when arrogant reporters tried to pretend that they knew more than their readers about a given subject.

We also want a reporter so highly attuned to the needs of our digital audience that a story is never really “done,” but is constantly being tweaked and fiddled with in response to the never-ending flow of readership data.

The successful candidate will not be afraid to leave the office, though all reasonable accommodation will be made for people suffering from agoraphobia and other disabilities recognized by the Office of Equal Employment Opportunity.

Lastly—and we can’t emphasize this strongly enough—Last Best News is looking for someone who has some kind of clue about what young people want. The successful candidate will kindly help us understand how to reach young people without cluttering their fragile minds with an overabundance of facts, or, for that matter, an overabundance of words.

If you think you are a reporter who can take us into the future of news, while covering the exciting present in a way that is not chained to the past, Last Best News would like to hear from you. Someday.

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