By JORDAN SPARR/Montana State News
Interviewing a journalist with as much experience as Ed Kemmick proved itself to be much more intimidating in anticipation than in action. Looking through Kemmick’s own Last Best News website, I called him with a bit of an apprehension. As the other line picked up, I was greeted with a hello, and I found that Ed Kemmick, as a true professional, knew how to be an interviewee to an inexperienced interviewer.
As we spoke of Kemmick’s past and experience as a journalist in Montana and Minnesota, one fact was made abundantly clear. He is a man who not only knows who he is and does what he wants, but also goes with the flow and knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.
Recounting how he came incredibly close to earning an actual degree, Kemmick told me that he went to the University of Montana for journalism, and all during one of the last few weeks of his final senior semester he had his daughter, got his first real reporting job, and experienced the eruption of Mt. Saint Helens. He figured he had learned what he needed to and decided that he was prepared and ready to start his career.
Kemmick went on to be an editor and reporter for numerous news outlets such as the Billings Gazette and the Butte Montana Standard. After his brother told him of an editing position open in Butte, and knowing he wanted to come back to Montana, he got the job and moved back.
Deciding he was pretty tired of editing positions, and knowing he wanted to spend more time with his family outside a rigorous 3 p.m. to midnight work schedule, he took the first reporting position he could after his daughter started the first grade. At this point he became a reporter for the Billings Gazette where he stayed until he quit on Christmas Eve of 2013.
Talking of the freedom he enjoyed in reporting on whatever he liked at the Gazette, he mentioned that getting the Sunday column was something he thoroughly enjoyed doing. This theme of personal freedom in what he could do directly influenced his decision to begin his personally run, cutting edge hyper-local news website the Last Best News.
He is the first to acknowledge that his endeavor into running a news business has increased the time and stress associated with work, but that the advice he got from his mentor has proven to be true. The amount of freedom to be felt in independent journalism is unbelievable, and is very rewarding.
The Last Best News ‘about us’ page describes itself as, “… an independent online news site dedicated to telling the story and covering the culture, people and places of Billings and Eastern Montana, with occasional forays into other parts of Montana and neighboring states.”
Proving himself to be a very dedicated and hard-working person, Kemmick tells me of how he runs the site very independently, with only one part-time employee in David Crisp, a retired journalist with his own experience in publishing newspapers. Kemmick runs the Last Best News with the journalistic ethics he credits to his education at the University of Montana, which he states is very important to good news reporting.
This foray into journalistic independence came at a time when newspapers were undergoing massive changes and economic strain. Asked to stop reporting on what he would like and stick to court reporting pushed Kemmick to begin the Last Best News, offering the freedom he had sought throughout his career.
The experience has proven even more rewarding from the flood of positive feedback in how important his work is to many people. As he wrote in the first post to the Last Best News, “I am also launching this news website because it is the only way I could find of giving myself an opportunity to get paid for doing exactly what I wanted to do.”
Perhaps the structure of the Last Best News is one of the best depictions of who Kemmick is professionally, and undoubtedly exemplifies his passion for interesting journalism. An avid lover of his state, the Last Best News echoes his feelings for Montana and how he feels it truly is the last best place. It is abundantly clear that he truly enjoys learning about people and events in this region, and the quality of his reporting is the clearest way to see that.
These days Kemmick stays busy living in downtown Billings, which he explains is an amazing place to live. Enjoying the relatively new culture boom of live music and events in the area, which he attributes to the long-standing owner of the Yellowstone Valley Brewery (known locally as “The Garage”) restarting the local music scene. Being a part of the local music scene himself, Kemmick tells me that playing music, “… is a good way to keep sane.”
In the end, I asked Kemmick if he could ever see himself leaving Montana, to which replied, “Well, I’m in my 50s and I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll probably leave to be closer to my daughter and grandchildren at some point, but I’m happy where I am right now.”
– edited by Cullan Staack