Rockies Today Brings Regional Context to Montana News

Montana is a big place, but there’s an easy way to get comprehensive news from across the furthest reaches up and down the Rockies. 

Rockies Today is the name of the daily newsletter that shows up in the inbox of more than 3,000 subscribers interested in stories related to public lands, energy, and climate change that affect Montana and other Western states. The newsletter is produced by the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, based at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Matthew Frank is the editor of Mountain West News, responsible for compiling the newsletter every day. A graduate of the university’s Environmental Studies master’s program, Frank had worked for the Missoula Independent and written for other publications in the West before he became editor of Mountain West News. Occasionally, Frank teaches journalism as an adjunct at the university, and leads a course for the Wild Rockies Field Institute.

“The real work in curating that newsletter is identifying stories and trying to connect the dots across various issues and across the region,” Frank said. Beyond “environmental” stories, Frank tries to identify stories that show how local economies and the culture of the region are changing.

“Every day I'm scanning hundreds of stories from dozens of news outlets, and also doing keyword searches on big topics. And I work to identify what I think are the most relevant or interesting or high quality stories,” Frank said.

The news is designed to inform major stakeholders and decision makers, as well as the knowledgeable public, about what’s happening in Montana and beyond.

“We have a really dedicated and informed audience,” Frank said. “If I were to go through the list of subscribers, you would see a lot of people who work for public lands agencies, they work for state agencies, nonprofits, a lot of journalists, tracking these issues. It's people who want to keep tabs on this bigger regional picture. So I sort of go into it knowing that my readers have very deep and nuanced understanding of these issues.” 

This newsletter was first created more than 20 years ago as Headwaters News. The name was changed to Mountain West News to better define the region. In 2015, Frank took over the newsletter and added a new focus on climate and energy issues, in addition to the existing focus on public lands and environmental topics.

Rockies Today captures a wide-picture view of Montana that might not be present in other publications.

“I think that there are a fair amount of national stories about our region that people miss; stories with that 30,000-foot-view of the region that I think are really important, and that people here should read,” Frank said. “And the flip side of that coin is that there are really important stories that local journalists around the region are reporting that I want national journalists to know about. And because the audience includes both national reporters and local reporters, my hope is that they're both seeing stories they otherwise wouldn't have seen. I'm often thinking about journalists when I put this together.” 

During the fall of 2019, Mountain West News joined in partnership with the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that tell stories about Montana, Colorado, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. Frank serves as the digital editor for the organization.

“They sort of saw in Rockies Today just how well we understand the big stories in the region,” Frank said. “This region is special and the story of this region needs to be reported on and communicated well.”

For Frank, the importance of Rockies Today is that it gives readers a chance to sort through the commotion of media to access the news they care about.

“There's so much noise today, so much news,” Frank said. “That's distracting for people who really care about the Mountain West and are always tracking big stories around topics such as energy and climate change and public lands. To be able to deliver to them something that cuts through the noise, and gives them a daily dose of journalism that matters to them and keeps them up to speed, maybe challenges their perspective or gives them a new understanding about an issue, or gives them a different lens through which to look at an issue, I think is the real value.”

Photo of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West by Jackie Bussjaeger.  

Jackie Bussjaeger

This is Montana Editor