Montana Free Press, a statewide digital-first nonprofit news organization, on Sunday announced the hiring of two new staff members, in addition to a new member of its volunteer board of directors. 

Kristin Tessman joins MTFP as director of development and operations, Mara Silvers is joining the reporting team in May, and longtime statehouse reporter Chuck Johnson was elected to the MTFP board of directors. 

Kristin Tessman

Tessman, of Helena, officially joined the team on March 13, just days after MTFP closed its downtown office and implemented a work-from-home policy to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

“I can’t imagine starting a brand-new job in the middle of a pandemic, but Kristin has hit the ground running as if it was just another day at the office,” said MTFP founder and executive director John Adams. “In her first few weeks, Kristin has shown tremendous initiative while helping us navigate the uncertainty surrounding this crisis. She has already proven to be a critical asset to our organization.” 

Before joining MTFP, Tessman was the executive director of AJAY MT, and brings to MTFP a wealth of fundraising, program development and nonprofit management experience. 

“I feel so lucky to be joining the team at MTFP,” Tessman said. “Montana Free Press has a fantastic reputation for delivering nonpartisan, well-researched stories of high importance to Montanans. As someone who cares deeply about how my work contributes to the greater good, I feel confident that time spent advancing MTFP’s mission will be time spent bolstering democracy and empowering Montanans. I’m grateful for this opportunity.”

MTFP editor Brad Tyer also on Sunday announced an impending addition to the newsroom: Helena native Mara Silvers will join the reporting team in May.

Silvers returns to her home state from producing Slate’s daily news podcast What Next. Before that she worked as a producer and reporter in the WNYC/Gothamist newsroom at New York Public Radio. Her work has been featured on NPR, The United States of Anxiety, The Takeaway, Nancy, and Montana Public Radio.

Mara Silvers

“I’m thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to move back to Montana and contribute to the local news landscape,” Silvers said. “It’s a privilege to join the Montana Free Press and the rest of the journalists who are working hard to keep the public informed.”

MTFP editor Brad Tyer said readers should expect an uptick in high-quality text and audio reporting with Silvers on the team. 

“We started advertising for this position in late 2019, and we had the privilege of interviewing a solid handful of extremely talented reporters,” Tyer said. “We couldn’t have been happier to offer Mara the job, and then she accepted and we were even happier. She’s bringing a boatload of skills to complement an already strong stable of staff and freelance reporters, and she’s going to lead us in some exciting new directions we could only aspire to until now.”

MTFP board secretary Drew Geiger welcomed retired journalist Chuck Johnson to the board in a note to members. 

Johnson spent more than 45 years as a reporter in Montana, covering the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention for the Associated Press and then working as a statehouse reporter in Helena for the Great Falls Tribune, Lee Newspapers and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Johnson also worked for years as an analyst for Montana Public Radio covering the Legislature and state politics. 

Chuck Johnson Credit: John S. Adams

“I’m pleased to join the board of Montana Free Press,” Johnson said. “I’ve admired the work the MTFP staff has done. The staff and freelancers really have risen to the occasion to cover all angles of the coronavirus pandemic in Montana.” 

Geiger said Johnson’s addition to the board is a natural outflow of the support he has given to MTFP right from the start. 

“As Montana Free Press continues to grow and add reporters and staff of considerable experience and talent, Chuck’s guidance and institutional knowledge will leverage MTFP’s reporting capacity all the further,” Geiger said. 

Johnson said MTFP plays a critical role in Montana’s news landscape, and he’s excited to be a part of its growth. 

“I’ve long believed that the more media we have covering issues and people, the better off Montanans are,” Johnson said. “I think the future is bright for nonprofit news organizations like Montana Free Press.”