To cap a career of newsroom success in Missoula, Seattle, Baltimore and St. Louis, Missoulian Editor Kathy Best will become the first director of the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.
“Kathy Best is a dynamic newsroom leader with a long track record of getting the most out of the journalists she works with,” said Lucy A. Dalglish, dean of the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism.
“She digs into stories that matter to the community and is eager to use what she’s learned to launch the Howard Center and make it a worldwide leader in investigative reporting.”
Best compared the Howard Center’s format to a teaching hospital, where students work with award-winning investigative reporters in collaboration with newsrooms across the nation to publish stories. As director, Best will function much like a newsroom editor, bringing together the data analysis, graphics, photos, video and audio that present a project.
She will work with about 100 students a semester, including both the center’s direct participants and members of the journalism school's Capitol News Service.
“We’ve shown what a difference that can make in Montana,” Best said on Monday. “This allows me to take what we’ve demonstrated here and apply it coast to coast, across media platforms.”
As executive editor of the Seattle Times, Best led her staff to two breaking-news Pulitzer Prize awards as well as two Online Journalism Awards. During her three years at the Missoulian, she was instrumental in helping reporters earn reporting opportunities through Fulbright scholarships and partnerships with the Society for Environmental Journalists, Solutions Journalism Network and Investigative Reporters and Editors, among others.
“I am incredibly proud of the work the Missoulian has done in the last three years, from explaining why a state so vast and with so many trees has shortages of timber to providing context and perspective around the reasons for and responses to enrollment declines at the University of Montana,” Best said.
“I’m particularly gratified that the Missoulian’s investigation of lax state oversight at private, therapeutic programs for troubled teens has sparked debate in Helena and may prompt reforms to keep vulnerable adolescents safer.”
Missoulian Publisher Jim Strauss said the entire journalism industry would benefit from Best’s talents on the national stage.
“She came to the Missoulian with an impressive record of projects journalism and continued to build that reputation in Missoula,” Strauss said. “I’m sorry to see Kathy leave, but I’m not surprised the University of Maryland sought Kathy out and recruited her. She’s the perfect pick to launch this effort.”
Strauss said City Editor Gwen Florio will serve as acting editor while a search takes place to fill the position.
Best started her reporting career covering the Illinois Legislature and state politics in Springfield and Chicago before joining the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington, D.C., Bureau, where she covered the Supreme Court, Congress and presidential politics. She spent a year ruining several perfectly good pairs of shoes investigating problems in the National Flood Insurance Program after an epic flood on the Mississippi River.
Best switched to editing full time in 1996, directing coverage of earthquakes, hurricanes, domestic whale hunts, abuse by priests, National Security Agency boondoggles, riots and other forms of mayhem in Seattle, St. Louis and Baltimore. All the while, she made sure her newsrooms kept a sharp eye on the governments and powerful interests in their backyards, holding people and institutions to account.
As executive editor and managing editor for digital news, she led the Seattle Times staff to two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of breaking news, including real-time reporting of the manhunt for a gunman who shot four police officers. The staff also won two prestigious Online Journalism Awards under her watch for a project on ocean acidification, and coverage of a devastating mudslide in Oso, Washington, that claimed 43 lives. In covering both breaking news stories, the Times newsroom produced investigative reporting on the run, explaining not only what happened, by why and how.
In June 2016, she and her late husband, investigative reporter and two-time Pulitzer winner Andrew Schneider, headed for the mountains of Montana, where Best became editor of the Missoulian in Missoula and of the Ravalli Republic, in the nearby Bitterroot Valley. When more than a million acres burned during her second summer in the Rocky Mountains, she got a front-row seat to the impact of a hotter, drier climate on the West. She said it also allowed her to return to her first love: community journalism.
“Newsrooms have been hollowed out by the loss of print advertising revenue, and digital advertising isn’t making up for it,” Best said. “We would be filling a void at a time when facts matter and deeply reported facts matter even more. That’s huge. That’s what you can’t get anywhere else. That’s what professional journalists do and do really well. I want to make sure they have the tools.”