The Missoulian's new executive editor is longtime journalist and former national correspondent Gwen Florio, publisher Jim Strauss announced Thursday.
"I'm just very excited to be able to work with Gwen in this new role," Strauss said.
He said Florio has played a significant role in important reporting at the Missoulian, and the former city editor and crime reporter for western Montana's largest media outlet will continue to pursue deep journalism and narrative storytelling.
"Gwen has been a key part of some very important in-depth projects that have been done here at the Missoulian," Strauss said. "Notably, Gwen was a key leader in our yearlong reporting on private programs for troubled youth. That series and continued reporting led to meaningful legislation to change how those facilities are regulated."
Florio served as city editor for the Missoulian most recently since 2016, and said she is honored and privileged to lead her newsroom and the Ravalli Republic newsroom in Hamilton.
"I want to continue the watchdog and investigative work that we've done the last couple of years," Florio said.
She also wants the newsroom to continue to document the changes taking place in the community and the region.
"We live in this amazing area that is undergoing very rapid transformation, and ... I want this newsroom to continue telling the stories of the people and the lives in this area, emphasizing both written narrative and really wonderful photojournalism."
Florio first worked as a Missoulian journalist from 2007 to 2013. She won the Lee Enterprises President's Award for her 2012 coverage of sexual assault involving University of Montana students, which resulted in federal investigations and changes to policies and practices that improve the way institutions and law enforcement agencies handle such cases.
Prior to moving to Montana, her coverage included the shooting at Columbine High School and the Oklahoma City bombing trials. In addition to covering the Rocky Mountain West, she's reported from Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia.
The journalism industry has been changing rapidly and media outlets have been under financial pressures and shrinking employee counts, but Strauss and Florio both said the Missoulian has set priorities to produce meaningful journalism.
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"Our reality is we live under really stringent financial limitations, and one of the things I love about this newsroom is we have managed to find a way within that to pick our shots and to do the stories that have the most impact and stories that matter the most to our community in ways that I'm just incredibly proud of," Florio said.
Florio named as recent examples coverage of trailer home evictions for small amounts of unpaid taxes and the investigation of private treatment programs for troubled teens. Both reports led to legislative changes.
"That is the most gratifying part of being in this business, because it affects people's lives," Florio said.
Strauss said changes in the industry also make a digital approach in news a top priority, and he anticipates that transformation "will continue to accelerate." He said the print publication still reaches more readers than the website, but each year, the online audience grows.
At the same time, Strauss said he and Florio have talked about connecting with the local community in ways beyond journalism, through events such as political forums and other engagements.
"I think Missoula is a very dynamic community, and that's something that you'll be seeing the Missoulian pursue quickly," Strauss said.
Strauss, formerly at the Great Falls Tribune, first brought Florio to Montana from Denver to run the Tribune's Capitol bureau in 2005. From Colorado, Florio had covered the Rocky Mountain West as a national correspondent for the Philadelphia Inquirer and also reported for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News.
In 2007, Florio moved from the Tribune to the Missoulian, and she subsequently departed in 2013 to focus on fiction for three years. Her most recent novel, "Silent Hearts," was released by Atria in 2018, and Florio said she will continue to write in the mornings before arriving at the newsroom, as she has the last three years as city editor.
Florio took the executive role in an interim capacity when Kathy Best departed earlier in May to take a post as the first director of the new Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at the University of Maryland.
Florio and her partner, Scott Crichton, retired executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, live in the lower Rattlesnake.
She first applied for a job at the Missoulian roughly 20 years ago after she first visited Montana in 1993, but she said then-editor Mike McInally rejected her. "This is a wonderful 20-, 30-years-old I-told-you-so."