FROM THE EDITOR: The Billings Gazette puts the public at the heart of its mission


The Billings Gazette has always had a mission.

But with all the changes to news gathering and publishing, we wondered if that mission has changed.

In 2019, we posed a series of questions to the journalists in our newsroom: What’s our purpose? What do we excel at? Who is our audience?

The debate around those questions resulted in a concise statement.

“The Billings Gazette’s mission is to engage and inform people about Billings, the state of Montana, and surrounding areas by providing reliable and fact-based reporting, context and diverse viewpoints.”

Broadly, that’s always been the mission of The Gazette. But, it helps to have the statement handy as we direct and shape the news we offer you.

We put you in our mission statement because we need our readers — people — to remain at the heart of the work. If we’re not thinking about who you are and why you’re reading us, then we can’t help you live a better, more informed life.

The mission statement also considers geography. We are The Billings Gazette, so naturally Billings is the center of our focus. But, we also circulate all the way to the Hi-Line, to the North Dakota border, to Bozeman, and into northern Wyoming. Because the issues in all of those communities matter to residents there, they matter to us.

We also address the “what” and “how” of news gathering.

Informing the public is a huge part of The Gazette’s role. We report road issues, weather updates, sports scores, election results, disease outbreaks, and so much more.

But “inform” isn’t enough. More importantly, we’re trying to engage you. We want you to get involved in your community, to contribute to debates, to vote confidently and shape policy. If someone wants to build a gravel pit, an apartment complex or a gymnastics studio in your neighborhood, we want you to be a part of that discussion. If someone wants to raise your taxes, we work to make sure you know why, and how to weigh in. We love it when residents pack into a public meeting with The Gazette tucked under their arm or pulled up on their smartphone.

We also want you to know all the fun ways there are to spend your time off — what new restaurants and stores are open, what concerts and art shows are coming, and where you can hunt, fish and ride your bike.

We base our reporting on facts. We don’t rely on social media posts, Wikipedia or gossip to inform our reports. A lot of work goes into finding and checking facts.

We pursue facts and conclusions that can be backed up by data, public officials, experts, and departments, and real people who were there and whose stories we can corroborate. We do our homework.

Social media does play a role, however. We regularly find stories online that prompt us to track down more information. We acknowledge that the “who, what, where and when” of most events can be found in your Facebook or Twitter feed. More than ever, our role now is to put facts into context — how an issue got to this point, what certain decisions could mean and whether we’ve faced a particular issue before.

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You may not always like the facts we report. Facts can be uncomfortable, and even angering. We spend our days working to distinguish fact from opinion, and when we report differing viewpoints, we note whose opinions they are. The purpose of our news isn’t to persuade you. It’s to equip you should you choose to participate.

We also publish opinions, labeled on our Opinion page as editorials (from the Gazette Editorial Board), columns (internal, submitted and syndicated) and shorter letters to the editor. These help us paint a full picture of the diverse viewpoints in our community. Though their authors may intend to persuade you, that doesn’t mean The Gazette agrees with them, and we work to keep those opinions separate from our news reporting.

We live in a diverse community, whether you look at race, gender, economy, age, religion or interests. You should see yourself in our pages. But you also should see people who think differently from you. Our job is to create the opposite of an echo chamber, a space where differing perspectives can thrive on the same page.

Our mission statement now appears daily in the information box in the bottom left corner of A2.

It’s challenging to live up to it. But as our community grows, technology changes and decisions of what we can cover get more and more difficult, we need this guiding light for what we are and what we aim to do. We hope it also helps you understand us better.

We aren’t perfect, and we never will be. But we care deeply about this community and our work in it, and with this mission as a fresh lens for us to see our work, we intend to serve you better each day.

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Alyssa Small is a city editor in the Billings Gazette newsroom and Billings native. She led a team of 11 journalists to craft the paper’s new mission statement.