Meet your IPC

Member profile: Kai Eiselein

By John Miller

Some of Kai Eiselein’s fondest early memories include walking with his great-grandfather in little Boulder, Mont., to check in at the family newspaper, the Monitor. Other mornings, a grandfather who worked at the Missoulian would wake him to get the paper as it rolled off the presses.

His great-grandfathers A.H. and A.W. Eiselein started publishing newspapers in Montana in the early 1900s. The Roundup Record-Tribune, published by A.W. in the tiny town north of Billings, is 100 years old this year. Meanwhile, both grandfathers were lithographers. A.E. “Buzz” Eiselein was a Navy reconnaissance photographer in the Pacific during World War II and later worked for the Great Falls Tribune before starting Kalispell Litho in Montana.

Even with this newspaper and photography lineage, however, it took Eiselein, now 44 and editor of the Latah Eagle in Moscow, Idaho, several years and various other jobs – in a traveling carnival, with a theater, as a landscaper, an auto mechanic and a chef – before he realized the blood coursing through his veins was inky black for a reason. In 2000, he began work as a part-time photographer at the Eagle, finally putting to work skills he’d honed years earlier while stringing for the Nogales, Ariz., International and at his college newspaper at Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell. He became sports editor and jumped to editor in 2004.

“I should have just pursued this as a career in the first place,” said Eiselein, the Lewis & Clark Chapter president of the Idaho Press Club. “I have never been happier. I love what I do.

“I always looked up to the newsmen I was around as a child. They seemed bigger than life to me, they weren’t afraid to voice their opinion and people respected them. George Ostrom, who ran the Kalispell Weekly News, was loud and brash. Mel Ruder, who won a Pulitzer for the Hungry Horse News, was much quieter and was an outstanding photographer.”

Eiselein is married to Anna, a travel agent. They have one daughter, Katie, and a grandson, Aaron, born Feb. 26. The Eiselein’s other kids are Abby, a Bassett hound, and three cats, Cosmo, Dipstick and Kit.

At the Eagle, he takes 90 percent of the photos, oversees a team of part-time citizen journalists and high school students who write and take pictures, writes at least one story a week and sometimes assumes editorialwriting duties.

“It’s a seven-day-aweek job and not for the faint of heart. If I’m not worrying about this issue, I’m worrying about the next,” he said.

Working at a weekly that serves Moscow and its surrounding communities, he says he’s under many of the same pressures facing editors of larger daily newspapers. A Web presence has become a must, as has providing RSS feeds to tech-savvy readers too impatient to wait for press time on Wednesday. In fact, publishing on the Internet allows the Eagle to compete when necessary as a daily, Eiselein said.

Nowhere was that more clear than during the May 19, 2007, shooting spree in Moscow that left four people dead. Gunman Jason Hamilton fired about 200 shots into a police dispatch center and inside a church before taking his own life.

Eiselein said his paper’s work during this dark period reminded him of why he got into journalism – a profession he associates with the larger-than-life media figures of his Montana youth.

“It’s a bittersweet thing, though,” he said. “I’m proud of how we did under pressure and how the Web coverage and print coverage came together, but I wish we never had to cover such a thing. I think I got about six hours of sleep from Sunday through the time the paper went to bed Wednesday.

“It was tough having to stare right into all that evilness for such a long stretch and having to compartmentalize my emotions,” he added. “It all hit later, though. I was getting a glass of water and started shaking. I wound up dropping the glass and just sat on my kitchen floor sobbing.”

Working at a weekly in a market where two dailies, the Moscow Pullman Daily News and the Lewiston Tribune, are vying for readers and advertisers, Eiselein admits competition is sometimes fierce. But some advertisers prefer the Eagle because they can hit their target audience more efficiently, he said, adding the paper is also more affordable than the larger papers for smaller “mom pop shops” that serve the smaller communities like Genesee, Troy or Deary.

“I think we cover the personal side of life in our communities better,” he said. “There is an old saying that you’ll get your name in a daily paper three times: when you are born, when you get married and when you die. With weeklies chances are you’ll see your name over and over as you go through life. Genealogists love weekly papers for that very reason.”

At the Eagle, Eiselein see his contribution to the world at the appointed hour every Wednesday. It’s a connection to his past, when he’d hang out with his grandfather or great-grandfather at their newspapers, sometimes grabbing a doughnut on the way back home. “I didn’t get into this to change the world or anything, I just liked the rush of seeing a photo I took in the paper,” Eiselein said. “Having people talk about it made it even better.”