The last time I talked to John S. Adams, nine months ago, he was living in a cabin on Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front, where he used a stack of old newspapers to stoke fires in a wood-burning stove.
An accomplished political reporter, Adams had recently left the Great Falls Tribune amid a much-publicized Gannett restructuring. A couple of Montana’s top political journalists had just been let go by another chain when we spoke, creating a hole in the state’s media ecosystem.
At the time, Adams was underemployed and eager to get back to work. But he wasn’t ready to be a media entrepreneur.
“I’m hoping that somebody comes up with a model and then says, ‘You know who we need? John Adams,’ and then I’m ready to go,” he told me then. “But I don’t know the likelihood of that happening. I hope that happens, that’s my great hope.”
Since then—with a little prodding from others—Adams has decided to try to build that model himself. The 37-year-old has started his own nonprofit news outlet, The Montana Free Press, under the fiscal sponsorship of the Institute for Nonprofit News. Adams chairs MTFP’s board, which also includes an attorney, former Democratic and Republican state senators, and an ex-investigative reporter who is now a licensed private investigator.
They’ve just started raising money, about $5,000 in the first few weeks. But since January, Adams has placed MTFP stories in more than a dozen outlets, including the state’s major newspapers. He hopes to obtain significant grant support over the first year, and eventually to develop a broad, sustainable mix of small and large donors.
There’s no guarantee of success, of course—small news nonprofits have met with all sorts of different outcomes since they started proliferating a little less than a decade ago—but he’s giving it a shot…
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