Big plans for Last Best News 2.0—and we need your help


John Warner

The newly formed partnership behind Last Best News 2.0: Ed Kemmick, left, and David Crisp.

A few months before I launched Last Best News, I talked to David Crisp about a possible partnership. I was mostly joking, but only because I had no idea whether the online newspaper I was hoping to start could support one person, let alone two.

I thought the possibility was worth mentioning, though, because I knew that if I ever reached the point of being able to expand, there was no one I’d rather work with. I had known David as an editor and reporter at the Billings Gazette in the mid-1990s, and he was so good at both jobs that it was a little daunting.

His capacity for tolerating the worst aspects of corporate journalism was much smaller than mine, however, and he jumped ship in 1997 to start his own weekly newspaper, the Billings Outpost.

It was a good thing for the people of Billings, but it was hell on our relationship. I was vaguely aware that putting out a weekly paper was a time-consuming occupation, but David’s virtual disappearance came as an unsettling surprise.

LBN Party planned

To celebrate our expansion and to help raise the money to make sure we can continue it, Last Best News is throwing a Re-Launch Party and Fundraiser at the Yellowstone Valley Brewing Co.’s Garage Pub, 2123 First Ave. N., on Friday, Feb. 26.

The party will go from 5 to 8 p.m. and will feature the Peach Pickers—John and Ed Kemmick, Bob Brown and Pat Rogers—joined by various musician friends. There will be food, beer brewed on the premises and gin and vodka distilled at the garage.

No more sitting on my porch drinking beer and playing backgammon until even the mosquitoes had gone to bed. No more tennis at Pioneer Park, no more darts and shuffleboard at the Western Bar. Our frequent canoe trips on the Yellowstone River, supplemented by day hikes in the Pryors and other nearby spots, dwindled to an outing or two a year, at best.

Over the years we talked about working together again someday, but only in the half-serious way that people talk about what they’d do if they won the lottery.

But then, 15 years after David’s departure from the Gazette, I’d finally had enough, too, and launched this online newspaper. From the start, David and I have collaborated, mostly by sharing stories and photos with each other, but we still weren’t truly working together.

That is about to change. Today David is publishing the last issue of the Billings Outpost under his ownership, and on Monday, Feb. 1—which will be the second anniversary of Last Best News—he will be joining me as a full partner.

We’ll still be a small outfit, but in this age of relentless cutbacks in newsrooms across the country, that we’re expanding at all is, we think, big news.

Going from one to two people means there will be more time for in-depth stories, and more time for finding stories all over Eastern Montana. Best of all, from my perspective, is that David will have the time to do the kind of writing he hasn’t been able to do in years.

Readers who knew him only as the editor of the Outpost are familiar with his consistently good Editor’s Notebook columns and his occasional book reviews. But when he reported for the Gazette, he did a little of everything—daily coverage of his county government beat, feature stories, investigative pieces and profiles of interesting people.

I was still an editor during the infamous Freemen standoff in Jordan in 1996, when virtually every Gazette reporter spent at least a few days covering that story, along with dozens, if not hundreds, of reporters from around the world. David, during his short stint in Jordan, looked away from the bright lantern that everyone else was buzzing around and drove even deeper into the depths of Garfield County to interview a ranch couple who had relatives inside the Freeman compound.

His thoughtful, balanced story, I remember thinking at the time and still believe, was the best piece of journalism to come out of that whole long ordeal. Last Best News has given me the freedom to write whatever I please, which has been by far the most satisfying aspect of this venture. I can’t wait to see what David will do with that same freedom.

How to donate

To help Last Best News expand, just click right here.

Together, we will continue providing free online news, opinion and features 365 days a year. We will continue to concentrate on coverage of the Billings area and Eastern Montana, with an unsurpassed depth of experience and knowledge of this part of the world. There will just be more of it. We like to think of it as Last Best News 2.0.

Last Best News has always been committed to giving its readers free, unimpeded access to its content—meaning no surveys, no pop-up ads, no subscription fees, no hectoring ads from click-bait sites devoted to sex, scandals and celebrities. That’s why we have always depended on paid advertising and on donations from our readers.

We plan to continue that commitment, but to make sure this venture can pay two full-time staffers rather than just one, we are asking our readers and supporters to help us out. We are launching a pair of fundraisers, one that encourages readers to make voluntary monthly donations to Last Best News, and another seeking one-time donations that will give us a financial cushion as we work to expand our coverage.

We also want the resources to be able to hire more freelance writers and photographers, and to fund reporting trips across the broad stretches of Montana that we have pledged to cover. Neither one of us has any illusions about getting rich doing this. All we are hoping for is to make enough to live on while we feed our addiction to putting out newspapers—whatever form that may take as technology evolves.

We are convinced that Last Best News will only grow in terms of readership and influence and that it can again be self-supporting, but for now we need your help.

You can go to our donation page for details on how to support Last Best News by agreeing to make monthly donations or by making a one-time donation. If you prefer cash or checks, the address is Last Best News, PO Box 1351, Billings, MT, 59103. If you do decide to help out, we have established a number of rewards, including gift cards to local restaurants, a CD, a book, John Warner photographs and more.

And please keep in mind that David and I are newspaper guys, not professional fundraisers or—what’s that new term for it?—“development directors,” so bear with us. Some of the rewards we are offering for donations are still in the process of being created or shipped, so you may have to wait a short time.

Again, though, we are only asking for support. If you want to think about it, or if you can’t afford it, you will always be welcome here anyway. We want readers more than anything else, so you are playing an important role just by showing up. For that we thank you.

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