BIG SKY – The date was March 15, 2020. On that day, one particular shutdown notice rocked the Big Sky community: Big Sky Resort announced that it would suspend ski operations for the remainder of the season, more than a month ahead of schedule.
Explore Big Sky Editor-in-Chief Joe O’Connor and Local Editor Brandon Walker sat at a table tucked in the back of the empty Outlaw Partners office pondering next steps as southwest Montana entered the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was then, huddled at the table, that the game plan changed for the EBS editorial team. Reversing the traditional model that the paper had followed for years, the staff flipped the script and began publishing news online as it broke, disseminating information to the community as fast we could churn it out.
“I can tell you, myself and my team, we’re going out and we’re busting our tails every day to tell you the truth [and] to bring readers information they need,” O’Connor said. “We decided we weren’t going to put our heads in the sand, and instead adjusted our approach to the quickening news cycle.”
The EBS team has worked relentlessly to cover the progression of the virus within Gallatin County while still bringing readers additional pertinent news. Now, we want to take an opportunity to tell you our story.
“My thoughts and feelings on COVID-19 haven’t changed much since it got here in March,” said EBS New Media Lead Mira Brody. “We’re living through something no one really has before and information changes every day. That forces you to be nimble and accepting and patient. So, I’ve been trying to embrace those life skills.”
We’ve worked from home. We’ve grown accustomed to Zoom meetings. And we’ve had to navigate the pandemic just like you, our readers.
“Each night when I leave the office, I pass by O’Connor’s desk, always with the intention of simply saying goodnight. But each time it turns into a conversation; a decompression of yet another wild day of news,” said EBS Community and Environmental Editor Bella Butler. “These evening conversations, and others like them, serve as a grounding mechanism. Every news release, press conference and interview is crazier than the last, and it’s hard not to get stuck up in the clouds.”
Since March 15, 2020 the EBS team estimates they have uploaded around 10,000 original and externally sourced articles, press releases and briefs containing information that references or is impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, while attempting to process and formulate our own thoughts of the virus and best practices to take throughout the pandemic.
“I have never dealt with anything like this in my life, whether it be on a personal or professional level,” Walker said. “It has been a constant challenge to disseminate my own evolving thoughts and feelings as I’ve consumed a wealth of information on the virus. Conveying the most up to date and accurate information has been paramount for our team throughout the last four months.”
And the effort has manifested itself in a digital surge. During a 30-day period spanning from late May into the final week of June, EBS tracked more than 300,000 pageviews on explorebigsky.com, roughly double the current average amount for the previous 30-day period. In addition, the number of subscribers to the EBS Town Crier e-newsletter increased from roughly 8,000 subscribers in February to about 16,000 by mid-March.
“I think that’s a testament to the quality work we’re doing, but also the amount and regularity of the stories that we’re getting out there,” O’Connor said.
Coinciding with the bolstered page views, the number of articles published per day in the month of July has increased, averaging more than four articles uploaded to the explorebigsky.com website each day.
“When a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic touches every corner of the globe, big media outlets are essential in creating an understanding of the larger narrative,” Butler said. “But our audience also exists within another narrative, one that is locally driven and relatable to people as they move through their day-to-day lives in the Big Sky area.”
In our attempt to continue keeping our readers better informed, EBS has exciting news. While we continue to print the EBS newspaper, we’re bolstering our online presence, adding web-specific content as well as more stories, photos, videos and audio recordings to explorebigsky.com.
“EBS’s digital presence will make local, independent news available to our community in a timely manner. That’s something that is so unique in our country and I hope no one takes for granted,” Brody said. “It will also allow us to grow so we can better serve Big Sky for the long-haul.”
As we increase this digital effort, we’ll be rolling out reader perks and providing our audience with more opportunities to become further involved with EBS, Mountain Outlaw magazine and our digital platforms.
“We’re all in this together,” Walker said. “The EBS team’s goal is to bring you the information that you want to read. We encourage our readers to submit story ideas and we’ll do our best to report on the topics that interest you.”
Check out explorebigsky.com for daily content and to sign up for the popular Town Crier e-newsletter, and visit our Facebook and Instagram pages for more breaking news.