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When I last wrote this Thanksgiving column in 2021, I said I had more to be thankful for than in any previous year since founding Montana Free Press in 2016.

A year later my gratitude for our devoted readers, our generous financial supporters, and our incredible crew of passionate and hard-working journalists and nonprofit professionals continues to be at an all-time high.

Every year as I look back on how far we’ve come, I’m dumbfounded by the breadth of talent and dedication in our scrappy independent, upstart organization. From the newsroom to the backroom to the Zoom room, it’s a genuine joy to work alongside the people who made this organization LION Publishers’ 2022 Business of the Year.

I’m grateful for the individual efforts of the reporters who doggedly pursue tips, track down documents, dig into data, rustle up informed sources, and then produce intelligently written stories that inform and inspire the public to participate in democracy.

I am grateful for committed editors who pore over copy — sometimes for hours, sometimes for days — to make that reporting bulletproof and accessible to all Montanans.

I’m grateful for all the people who support those efforts behind the scenes, from our innovative and dynamic audience and membership teams to our dedicated and resourceful development and operations teams to the creative independent contractors we work with all across the country.

The timing of all my gratitude coincides with the release of MTFP’s 2022 Growth & Gratitude report (watch for it in your inbox later today). In honor of all that we’ve accomplished, our board of directors, who volunteer their time, talent and expertise to this uniquely Montana enterprise, have also pledged $20,750 to match your one-time gift or 12 months of your new monthly donation pledge, up to $1,000 total. This match extends through Giving Tuesday on Nov. 29.

But I’m especially grateful for the readers and supporters who rely on MTFP and trust us to keep them in the know. MTFP’s audience is made up of civic-minded folks who believe in the power of the free press to keep government accountable, to keep communities informed, and to make Montana a better place to live, work and play.

MTFP is only as strong as the individuals who value it, and this time of year we’re grateful for each and every one of you. You can show your gratitude for MTFP by having your tax-deductible donation to this people-powered newsroom doubled between now and Dec. 31.

This week’s special early Thanksgiving edition of The Lowdown is dedicated to MTFP’s gratitude for the past year, and the meals we’re looking forward to sharing with friends and family over the coming days.

We hope you all have a safe, peaceful, and joyful Thanksgiving!

—John S. Adams, Editor-in-Chief

By the Numbers 🔢

Miles traveled by Montana Free Press staffers between July 2021 and July 2022 to report, conduct interviews and attend meetings, as documented in MTFP’s 2022 Growth & Gratitude Report.

Giving Thanks 🙏

Amanda — Not to get too sentimental on y’all, but I’m grateful for the University of Montana’s School of Journalism. Some of my former professors are still there, while others have retired or moved on to other roles. All of them are true believers in the importance and power of journalism. I love that I still see their names in my inbox or social media feeds on occasion. Ditto my classmates, who’ve gone on to do great work at local, regional and national publications ranging from the Missoula Current to NPR.

Kristin — In September I was on a personal trip in Michigan and attended a local event. I found myself chatting with a community leader, and he asked what I did for a living, to which I replied “Montana Free Press.” His eyes lit up, and he pulled out his cell phone and showed me the Lowdown newsletter! I’m lucky to have many conversations with MTFP readers, and they aren’t confined to the geographic boundaries of this great state. I am consistently blown away and so thankful that our work is meaningful to Montanans wherever they find themselves.

Alex — Often the real battle in journalism is making sense of the mountains of agenda items, agency reports and regulatory discussions that preface major policy decisions. That’s why I’m endlessly thankful for the army of sources I’ve built on my beats the past two years, those people I rarely quote but who consistently take time out of their busy days to share the insights I need to ask informed questions and grasp the nuances of a given issue.

Nate — It might be a cliche, but I am most thankful this year for you, our reader. This summer, I had the chance to meet many of you at our Local Happy Hours, at farmers markets and in so many other places across our state. Your passion and support for our mission has stuck with me each and every day. I’ve always wanted to see Montana Free Press become a civic institution that all Montanans can be proud of, and you continue to help make that a reality.

Arren — I’m thankful to Helena, my adopted home for coming up on two years, the focus and venue for much of my and MTFP’s work, an endless opportunity to meet people who now throw pots but used to work for some guy in some administration some number of years ago, as well as lots of friends, the home of the world’s best beers, our Queen City of the Rockies. That all said, I’m going home to sunny Arizona for Thanksgiving. It’s freezing here.

Sarah — I started as the Development Manager at Montana Free Press about a month ago and it immediately became clear to me just how exceptional this organization is, at every level. From our diligent supporters around the country to the incredible stories the editorial team produces each day, this year I am holding deep gratitude for being part of the MTFP team.

Eric — I’m thankful for the Legislative Fiscal Division. The state budget is a $10-billion-plus bundle of jargon, and the nonpartisan experts over at LFD do yeoman’s work interpreting it so lawmakers and the public have a fighting chance at understanding what all is packed in there.

Claire — While talking with people across Montana at farmers markets and other outreach events this year, I heard many times how difficult it is today to know where to turn for news. I am truly grateful that an organization like this can continue to exist, that there is a lifeline of reliable news for Montanans that provides traditional and trustworthy journalism, and that the vision of a not-for-profit organization dedicated to providing reliable news continues to be possible. I’m grateful to readers like you and to my coworkers who are dedicated to upholding the fourth estate.

Mara — The last two weeks have had me digging into a story that I don’t thoroughly understand. While that’s not uncommon, this one has involved calling a surprisingly long list of sources in an effort to get my bearings. At last count, I have 17 very generous people to be grateful for. To the district court clerks, attorneys, social workers, lawmakers, judges — you know who you are —  thanks so much for taking my calls. I wouldn’t get very far without you.

Brad — This might sound self-serving, but I swear it’s not. Among the many things about this job for which I’m grateful, my fellow editors at the state’s media outlets large and small are a top source of sincere gratitude. They collaborate with our reporters, share tips and insights and photos, republish MTFP stories for their readers, and keep the journalism flame alive in communities from Benteen to the Bitterroot, Seeley Lake to Sidney, Choteau to Ekalaka, and all points in between. May you all squeeze a well-deserved slow news day of thanks between deadlines this year.

On Our Menu 🍽

Amanda — Somewhere along the way, my family got into the habit of putting a coffee bean in the holiday cheesecake. That’s probably something we borrowed from the Mardi Gras “King Cake” tradition, itself a riff on other traditions. Whoever gets the coffee bean in their slice of cheesecake is deemed king or queen for the day, which usually means a welcome reprieve from dish duty.

Nate — My favorite way to indulge on Thanksgiving morning is with the queen of breakfast sandwiches: croque madame. I think Andrew Rea’s recipe makes for a great foundation, but I like to skip the nutmeg and add a teaspoon of stone-ground mustard to the finished bechamel. If your oven is already occupied, a toaster oven will work just fine as a substitute for the broiler.

Alex — When it comes to food, I’m a huge fan of creative presentation. Cookies baked in a donut pan, creamy dijon sauce textured with onion slices, pork chops candied with a coating of chutney. So I started doing culinary backflips this week when I stumbled on a recipe for “smashed potatoes” — a playful take on a Thanksgiving staple. Pro tip: season those puppies with pressed garlic, pepper and a squeeze of lemon.

Kristin — I was born and raised in the deep south, and my Thanksgiving table doesn’t feel complete without a few southern classics. If you’re wondering, my stuffing isn’t actually stuffed, but it absolutely must contain cornbread (of the savory variety!). I haven’t in the entirety of my life had a gathering of consequence with loved ones without deviled eggs present. And while I love a classic pumpkin pie, I prefer to make mine with the pecan topping you’d see on an old-fashioned pecan pie. Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!

Arren — My mom, an excellent cook, always makes cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving — or sauces, I should say. Cranberry jalapeno chutney. Cranberry cherry orange port jam. Four, five variations every year. I’m a pretty bad cook, and one who doesn’t really like Thanksgiving food, but I’m nonetheless taking the hint and applying myself to cranberry sauce this year. I started with this one.

Mara — I’m cracking my knuckles and hyping myself up to be the chief roll-maker for this year’s dinner. The goal: deliver the fluffiest and most delicious bundle of carbs I can muster. I’m going with the monkey bread/bundt pan variety, with a touch of roasted garlic and seasonal herbs. Wish me luck!

Sarah — No Thanksgiving spread is complete without some ultra-buttery casserole sides. My favorite Thanksgiving dish growing up was always corn pudding, and not much has changed. I mean, this dish has it all — butter, sugar, cream cheese, cheddar cheese, and so much more — and I look forward to preparing and sharing the decadence with friends each year.

Eric — As far as I’m concerned, it’s not a real winter holiday without a slow cooker of wassail mulling away on the kitchen counter.

Claire — Probably the first recipe I ever learned to make (outside of an Easy-Bake Oven) was a classic green bean casserole. I’ve made it every Thanksgiving since I was 11 and now have the recipe from the soup can memorized by heart. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s hard to replicate the flavoring of nostalgia. We also had a family tradition of the kids (my siblings and some cousins) putting on a Thanksgiving play after dinner every year. Sadly, that faded once most of us got through high school, but thankfully it was before the days of easily being able to record everything.

John — Despite having started my journalism career at Potato Grower Magazine, I’ve never been all that fond of spuds that aren’t of the deep-fried French variety. The exception would be my brother Jimmie’s buttery whipped mashed potatoes, which he prepares in absurdly large quantities each Thanksgiving. This year I asked him how he does it: “Pepper, salt, little milk, BUTTER. Put milk in last when beating to get that paste texture.” As far as I can tell, Jimmie’s secret is using at least one stick of real butter per russet potato.

Brad — As with most things food-related, I’m not gonna belabor this: Au gratin potatoes. Out of a Betty Crocker box. Unadorned and overly crisp around the edges. Fight me. For the last bite, I mean.