A Western Institution Turns 50: High Country News Stays True to its Roots While Explaining a Fast-Changing Region
In January 1970, Wyoming rancher and educator Tom Bell cobbled together a gritty black-and-white tabloid sounding the alarm about the destruction of a landscape that he loved. In the process, he birthed a Western institution and launched one of the nation’s first reader-funded nonprofit news organizations.
World War II veteran, Bell had seen firsthand the devastation war had visited
upon Europe. When he returned home, he saw irresponsible players in the oil and
gas and mining industries wreaking similar havoc. High Country News (HCN)was his answer, designed to raise
awareness about industry’s impacts on the region’s land, air, water and
the 1980s, a new publisher and editor moved HCN to Paonia, a coal mining and
fruit growing community on Colorado’s Western Slope. Ed Marston, a former
physics professor, and his wife Betsy, a former TV journalist, tackled the
region’s complex issues, including public land and water policy and population
the Marstons, HCN earned a reputation for its honest reporting and insights
into the changes that were sweeping across the region. The Marstons and their
proteges won numerous awards for their work.
Larmer, who became publisher in 2002 when Ed Marston retired, transformed the
black-and-white tabloid into a full-color magazine and expanded its coverage of
social and environmental justice issues. In 2018, HCN became the first
non-Indigenous publication with an Indigenous Affairs Desk, staffed largely by
Native American journalists and focused on the vast archipelago of tribal
nations in the West.
marks HCN’s 50th anniversary. The staff is celebrating the publication’s unique
story with an ambitious $10 million fundraising campaign, an anniversary issue
in September 2020, a gala in Denver in June 2021 and a traveling exhibit
illuminating HCN’s history.
has changed since Tom Bell first raised his voice and his pen in defense of the
Western landscape, but Bell’s spirit lives on in the pages of the magazine and
its website, hcn.org. “At its heart, High Country News is still about fostering
clear-eyed conversations about a place that we all love,” says newly minted
Executive Director and Publisher Greg Hanscom. “It’s about telling the stories
of the West, with its troubled past and present, and asking how we can build a