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Friday, March 23, 2018

One journey ends, a new one begins

A Fond Farewell By Jason Stuart

“Have I played the part well? Then applaud as I exit.”

— Augustus Caesar’s purported last words

And so it is with a sense of melancholy that I pen my last words as a full-time reporter for the Glendive Ranger-Review as I exit stage left. Since arriving exactly five years ago in January 2013, I have had the privilege and pleasure of being your community reporter, doing my absolute best to accurately report the local news that affects our residents and matters to the community at large. In the course of doing so, I have come to love and care deeply about this community and many of the fine people who call it home.

Of course, I am not leaving Glendive, only moving into a new position — as executive director of the Dawson County Economic Development Council — and so am simply moving from serving the community in one capacity to another. And you will still see my byline in the Ranger-Review from time to time as I will continue to work part-time for the paper writing feature stories and some sports. So those of you who have enjoyed my reporting these past five years will still have the occasional story of mine to look forward to. For those of you who haven’t, tough luck.

Before I move on to discussing a few things about economic development, let me say a few more things about this newspaper. 

Quite frankly, dear people of Glendive and Dawson County, more of you need to log out of Facebook, turn away from the computer or smartphone screen and pick up the latest issue of the Ranger-Review and READ IT! In my five years here, there isn’t hardly a week that goes by that I don’t see someone — or multiple someones — posting to Facebook sites asking when this or that is happening or demanding answers to why this or that decision was made by the powers that be when all the answers they seek were printed in the paper two weeks before. 

You see, nearly all the answers you seek about what’s happening in your community are in your local paper. The newspaper industry as a whole may be on a downward slope, but community newspapers like ours are still vital, because the news we report about the things that really directly affect you at the local level cannot be found on CNN or Fox News or the runaway rumor mill of a social media page. The better informed citizenry you have the stronger your community is (and, by the by, the stronger your economic development prospects are), but I too often see people in this community who are either uninformed or misinformed — at times, it seems almost willfully so — and that needs to change.

On a final note about the paper, I’d like to add that the people here at the Ranger-Review who work to bring you the local news are an incredibly dedicated bunch. In particular, the two people responsible for running this little paper, editor Jamie Ausk Crisafulli and publisher Chad Knudson — two people who mean the world to me personally — embody the epitome of journalistic professionalism and, what’s more, care more deeply about this community than just about anyone else I’ve met during my time here and each, in their own way, are actively committed to its betterment. You may not always agree with what they print in the paper, but you should never doubt for one instant their commitment to the truth or to the welfare of this community.

With all that said, let me conclude with a few words about the economic development of this community.

Put simply, there is a lot of work to do. I cannot enumerate the number of people I have heard say this to me in the last five years after they returned to Glendive after being away for 10 or 20 years: “Glendive hasn’t changed.”

Now some people might read that as a positive, but I don’t necessarily. While there is certainly value in your community having a core “identity” and sticking to its roots to a degree, when multiple people tell you your town hasn’t changed really at all in the past decade or two, that’s not necessarily something to be proud of. In order to grow and continue thriving, all communities must be willing to accept at least some change. That doesn’t mean the community has to abandon its core identity, it simply means its residents need to be open to accepting a broader perspective of what that identity can be.

And from the moment I arrived in Glendive, I saw an enormous untapped potential of what this community could be. It is an overall great community, to be sure, as it is today, but it has the raw ingredients to be much, much more than the sum of its current parts. From the otherworldly beauty of Makoshika to the treasure trove of dinosaur fossils lying beneath our feet to the serene tranquility of the Yellowstone River winding its way through the prairie and badlands to the thrashing splash of a paddlefish on the line, Glendive has a lot of unique things going for it that no other community in Montana — or anywhere else for that matter — can offer and therefore, a lot to build around.

So what is it then that is holding Glendive back? Why has this community, which from its founding up to the latter half of the 20th century was the preeminent economic and cultural center for all of Eastern Montana, allowed Miles City and even Sidney to a degree to surpass it in that regard?

There may be lots of correct answers to those questions, but the one that always stands out more than the rest and that concerns me the most is this: there is an observable, undeniable, deep-seated thread of negativity that runs through this community. There are too many people who say, “That’s the way it’s always been.” Some of them are simply consigned to accept the status quo, while the most negative of them will actively and loudly fight tooth and nail to stymie any change or progress.

So as I move into my new position at the DCEDC and work to improve our economic prospects, what I need most from you, people of Glendive and Dawson County, is positivity. 

In order to grow and prosper, we must put the old, negative attitudes to bed. We must not say, “That’s how it’s always been,” shrug our shoulders and sit on our haunches. Instead, we need to say, “This is how it’s going to be,” and move forward with building a stronger, more vibrant community. We don’t have to abandon our roots or our core identity to do so, but we must not be fearful of opening ourselves to new ideas, to exploring new avenues, to boldly going where Glendive has not gone before.

I hope there are plenty of you out there ready and willing to take that journey with me, to help lead Glendive into a new era of prosperity and vitality. The road will be plenty tough at times, but with some positivity and that can-do Montana tenacity, we absolutely can do it if we do it together, and I look forward to taking that journey together with all of you.

As for the journey I leave behind, I’d like to finish by saying thank you to all of our loyal readers out there. Thank you to all of you who have thanked or applauded me for stories I’ve done over the past five years. Thanks to all the good folks at the city, county, school district, law enforcement agencies, local legislators, college officials and everyone else I can’t possibly begin to list here for working with me the last five years and putting up with my constant phone calls and incessant questions. Thank you Mr. John Sullivan and everyone else at Yellowstone Newspapers for the opportunity to work with you. And a final and very special thank you to Jamie and Chad for believing in me and bringing me here in the first place.

In short, thank you, Glendive, for all that you have given me — a place to call home — and I hope that I will succeed in my new position in giving something back to you.

Jason Stuart is the outgoing senior reporter for the Ranger-Review and the new executive director of the Dawson County Economic Development Council.

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