Rich Landers

Rich Landers, Outdoor Editor 1977-2017. Portrait by Milt Priggee

Rich Landers was the Outdoor Editor for The Spokesman-Review from 1977 – 2017.  Landers was honored on March 2, 2018, at the annual Winter Waters Celebration with the Watershed Hero Award by Sierra Club’s Upper Columbia River Group for his outdoor writing that has advanced the public’s understanding of the importance of conservation.  In preparation for that honoring event, the following interview was conducted on January 20, 2018.    For images from the honoring event:  slide show photos


A Montana boy

John Osborn (JO):  Rich, you’re a Montana boy who grew up fishing and hunting.  Tell us a little bit about how your boyhood influenced your decision to become a journalist, what you wrote about, and how you approached your writing.

Rich Landers:  Growing up with a dad who hunted and fished had a profound influence on my being a hunter and fisherman.  My mom didn’t – she was Italian and stayed at home which was pretty common for Montana families back then.   Hunting in particular immerses a kid in the real world of nature at a very young age.  It’s hard to get them interested in nature otherwise, although people are doing a great job of it now.  But back in the 1950s it was different.

Rich Landers on “Cutthroat Creek,” a hike-in fly fisher’s dream stream that could be in Idaho, Montana or British Columbia. “You’ll know when you’ve arrived,” he would write. Photo by Virgil Emery

Hunting is an intense form of wildlife watching. The killing is a very small part of it.  Most days you’re just wildlife-watching, being out there listening to birds, for hours and maybe days at a time.  When you do kill something it’s very serious business:  dressing and eating game is part of the learning experience too.  Death can teach you how life works.  I don’t think it necessarily teaches you all about how nature works, but it makes you ask questions.

A lot of kids grow up not knowing the difference between public land and private land, much less winter range and summer range — or how a drought affects a trout stream.  When you’re immersed in that, you start asking those questions.

When you don’t kill something, which is often the case in hunting, then you start wondering about something like carrying capacity.  I’m not sure a hunter could ever be one of these people who thinks that you should let wild horses multiply unchecked on public lands without some sort of program to reduce their numbers. Hunters, like ranchers, know something about carrying capacity.  Loving animals is one thing, but knowing how it all works and translates out on the land is another.

A knowledgeable hunter or angler can hardly avoid becoming a conservationist.

(JO)  Did you spend quite a bit of time with your Dad hunting and fishing?  When I was growing up, my Dad and his three sons spent a lot of time hunting and fishing.  Later in my life, my Dad was my fishing partner.  I had a father who showed me the way.   Was that your experience too?

RL:   Absolutely.  I can’t imagine what my life would be without my Dad.  He was never a rich man.  He was a manager of a Sears hardware store in Lewistown, Montana.  He gave me all of his free time.  He was at every one of my football and basketball games.  He dragged the baseball diamond whenever I pitched a baseball game.  He was that kind of Dad.  We hunted and fished all the time.   He took those pictures of me with my first fish, my first bird, my first deer.  It meant a lot to him. I hunted with him every year.  When he was 89, he died with an antelope tag for that fall was on his dresser.

When I got married my wife’s birthday always fell during antelope season.  I let Meredith know I wasn’t likely to be in Spokane for her birthday because I always hunted antelope in Montana with my Dad.  Meredith understood that.  That was the deal.  Yes, I learned lots from him. He was my hero.

Journalism and Conservation: the early years

(JO)  In addition to your education outdoors,  and through your father, you also had had a formal education while growing up in Montana.  How did that prepare you for your work as a journalist?

RL:   It was critical.  To go way back, I started the high school newspaper.  I ran it off on mimeographs and wrote editorials.  There was just something in my blood, something I just wanted to do.  I was the valedictorian for my class – I’m not bragging about that, there were only eighteen in my class so the bar wasn’t very high.  I was the first valedictorian that the Catholic priests wouldn’t allow to give the graduation speech because they were afraid of what I would say. .

In the School of Journalism at the University of Montana I worked with professors who were pros.  I’ve worked all of my career to live up to their expectations.  They were top notch.  They taught me fundamentals of reporting: editing, interviewing, clear writing, ethics.  It’s really important training.

I also took wildlife-related classes and was on the verge of becoming a wildlife biologist. I took away a lot of appreciation for range and wildlife scientists.  That followed me for the rest of my career.  I appreciate what these people went through to do their job.

Beyond the journalism and formal training, the college experience itself led me to my epiphany with outdoor recreation and conservation.  I came to college as a good old boy who rode snowmobiles and hunted and fished.  That was my world.  I was introduced to backcountry skiing, backpacking, bicycle touring and so much more in college.  It was in college that I applied the background that I had in the outdoors and learned that much of what I appreciated was threatened in one way or another.   The great outdoors as I new it wasn’t just something I could take for granted.  That was an important lesson.

In 1975-76, during my senior year of college, I was the named the editor of the university student newspaper. I created the first conservation column the Montana Kaimin ever ran, and it was probably the last.  Looking back at that reminds me how much  and how long conservation has been on my mind..

(JO)  Do you think this was set in a larger national context of environmental awakening?

RL:   Oh yes.  I was definitely waking up to that whole thing.  Being at the journalism school, my office as editor of the paper looked right at the forestry school. The girl I took to the Foresters’ Ball was a biology major who is now a wildlife refuge manager in Hawai’i.  I was surrounded by people who were in this thought process of “we all love wildlife and natural resources” and were all trying to figure out how to make sure they survived.  I was really blessed to be surrounded by people committed to conservation careers.

Field & Stream Magazine

(JO)  how did you get from the University of Montana to Spokane?  Wasn’t there a side trip to New York City?

RL:    Yeah.   My senior year I was selected as an intern in New York City for Field & Stream Magazine.  That was the Major Leagues for a student bent on becoming an outdoor writer.  The editors loved me because I was a hunter and fisher from Montana.  I loved them because that was a magazine I grew up reading in the barber shop.  [See also:  Rich Landers, Field & Stream]

That was a big deal.  I made an impression on them because I was later named the Far West Region Editor, a job I had for eighteen years until they dropped the regional editions.  I had that freelance job while I was working for The Spokesman-Review.

One of the first things Field & Stream editors asked me to do was write my perception of the magazine. I told the editor, Jack Sampson,  that I was disappointed they dropped their conservation columnist, Michael Frome.  The magazine, owned at the time by CBS, essentially censored him.  There again I had this conservation thing pop up wherever I went.

The Field & Stream internship was a big feather in my cap when I make a pitch to be the outdoors writer for The Spokesman.  It clearly separated me from anybody else who applied for that job that came open when the hunting and fishing editor moved on to another thing.

Indirectly, I also got to The Spokesman-Review by bicycle.  In 1976, I rode my bike across the United States. I was leading trips for a Missoula-based group called Bikecentennial, now Adventure Cycling.  Bikecentennial had obtained grant funding for the U.S. Bicentennial to map back roads across the United States.  I trained to be one of the leaders who guided people from coast to coast.  That was one of the great experiences of my life – to be out there long enough, four months, to make it a lifestyle.  It shaped my goals for what a lifestyle should be.

(JO) You had finished at the University of Montana?

RL:  I’d finished at the University of Montana, bagged out on graduation ceremonies and went right on the road, pedaling from Astoria, Oregon, to Yorktown, Virginia, with some side trips.

When I finished the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, I came back and worked in Helena at Montana Outdoors Magazine which is published by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. I was hired to be the editor of a special edition of Montana Outdoors that was geared to the Yellowstone River and the agency’s campaign to secure minimum flows for fish and wildlife in the Yellowstone River.  They hired a cinematographer to do a film called Yellowstone Concerto and they hired me to bring in material from staff biologists to write this magazine and put it out to the Legislature.  It worked:  the lawmakers guaranteed minimum flows for wildlife.  It was a big deal.

So there again, conservation came up early in my work.

While I was doing that, I was putting out résumés. I wanted to work in newspapers but not in Montana:  they didn’t pay enough.  I didn’t want to be in a big city, either.  So I looked at mid-size newspapers like the Eugene Register-Guard, the Salt Lake Tribune, and especially The Spokesman-Review.  I liked the Spokesman because it was close to Montana and also close to the coast and Canadian Rockies.   Spokane:  what a town, it offers so much.

Outdoor Editor

(JO)  Tell us more about getting hired by the Spokesman-Review?  

RL:   I had some ducks in the row with my background and my experiences.  I really lucked out dealing with a special sports editor who had an opening for an outdoor writer.  Bob Payne was a progressive and Stanford graduate.  Payne wasn’t locked into stereotypes for the job – he really saw the light.  He and I clicked immediately.

I told Payne that I knew hook-and-bullet is the bread-and-butter of newspaper outdoor writing and that’s what almost all newspaper outdoor pages are about:  hunting and fishing.  But I emphasized there is so much more.  Having just ridden my bike across the country, I had some credentials.  “There’s paddling and there’s hiking and there’s backpacking — all these other things that are involved.  Whitewater rafters have as much interest in water as fishermen do.”   He hired me on the spot without bringing me into the office.

My first story was about “running for health,” geared to the first Bloomsday because I was also about fitness and being outdoors.  My first columns at The Spokesman-Review where tagged “Lifesports Outdoors” –  pursuits you could do for the rest of your life.

Not a job:  reporting as a lifestyle

(JO)  So many people in the community have lived vicariously through you.  We would open our newspapers to find out where Rich had been, and imagine ourselves canoeing, fishing, or hiking in places you described.  In many ways you blazed trails for the regional community.  What was that experience like for you as both a writer and someone who cared for the outdoors?

RL:   The most important point is that covering the outdoors wasn’t a job for me, it was a lifestyle.  The outdoors is simply too big to cover in a 40-hour week.  I would be in the office a lot, but on the weekend I was always “working.”  I was doing something I loved to do so I rarely thought of it s work..  I looked at my job as a unique opportunity to involve my friends and my family and then also making a difference in educating people about nature, wildlife, and the land.  I looked at myself more as a teacher, or at least as a bridge between experts and the public.  Because I had a notebook wherever I went, I took notes on everything.  That was the genesis of my hiking and paddling guide books.    Those books have helped people get out and experience  the outdoors.

It’s important to note the outdoor skills I developed were used mostly as a vehicle to write about other people, the pursuits of other people like John Osborn, that were really the more important story.  I did write about my own adventures and misadventures once in awhile.  But it was being able to accompany a moose biologist, hike with a fisheries biologist, and join others in their professional habitat that gave me the insight and the stories that were most important.

(JO)  What a great job, though.

RL:   Yes, oh absolutely, John.  I’m retired, right?  But not long ago I heard that Pat Marcuson lives just up north at Waitts Lake. He’s a Spokane native turned fisheries biologist who surveyed nearly 1,000 lakes in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.  The other day I packed up my camera and my notebook and I went up to interview him.  The interview lasted 5 hours.  In the middle of it we had to have some of his elk stew.  It was just fascinating what this guy did for 10 years, spending a 180 days each year in the wilderness, wearing out two pairs of boots each season.

When I was writing these stories full time, I didn’t take the easy way out on a lot of topics and simply blame the government.  It so easy to bitch about the government, bitch about the Forest Service as being the main problem.  I’m not saying the agencies don’t have their problems.  It’s just so easy to say, “The government is the problem and that’s why they’re closing our roads and cutting me off from my favorite huckleberry-picking spot.”  I wrote about the other side, the science behind decisions such as closing roads to protect grizzly bears, to reduce erosion in cutthroat trout streams, or to create better habitats for big game.  I never was satisfied with the bitch.  I tried to find the reason and the result.

Hiking Guides, Ida & Tony Dolphin

(JO)  The hiking guides are important.   Through the first hiking guide you also met up with Ida Dolphin, who has passed now.  Both she and Tony Dolphin were wonderful people.   Can you tell us a little bit about what you recollect from that adventure with Ida Dolphin and how that was to put out a hiking guide?  [100 Hikes in the Inland Northwest.  Rich Landers, Ida R. Dolphin. 1987.]

RL:   I got to say a few words at both of their funerals. The were influential to me.  My barometer for outstanding people is not whether they have a high impact on me but what impact they have on bettering life for everybody. Those two people were right up there at the top of my list.  Tony was, of course, conservation chair for the Spokane Mountaineers and was the regular presence for the Mountaineers at all sorts of meetings that dealt with natural resources.  He was our link to that and an invaluable service.

Ida – I did a story on her long before we worked together on the guide book.  She started and led the hiking club at Shadle Park High School with math teacher Harvey Lochhead.  Ida was just delightful. I went out with her and saw how her infectious enthusiasm motivated the kids.  Her history with the civilian resistance in the Philippines during World War II – I won’t get into all of that.  She has a book about it (Life on Hold).  Let’s just say that through that lovely demeanor,  the toughness inside of her was very impressive to me.

We hiked together with the Spokane Mountaineers.  We always talked about writing a guide book about the hikes the Mountaineers liked, a service to the community by getting people out and enjoying the outdoors safely, minimizing impact, getting conservation across to them in addition to getting people to places that need protection.

Ida was about 5 feet tall and her pack was about 4 foot 10.  So there was just a little bit of her legs showing below her pack.   She was a character – loved to cook, taught people how to do camp cooking.  So when I stepped up and said to the Mountaineers, “I think we ought to do this book and I’d like the Mountaineers to help me” Ida was the first to say “I’ll help.”

She didn’t do all that much of the actual research – she and Tony did five or six of the 100 hikes.  But she was a rock-solid office person.  We had to do a ton of fact-checking, contacting agencies, getting things right, pulling together material.  Ida was a godsend.   I’ve never had any one more compatible to work with.  She could work with the devil and make him smile.

Spokane Mountaineers and a life partner

(JO)  The Spokane Mountaineers was an organization that you knew pretty well.  Didn’t you meet someone there who later became important to you?

RL:   Well I met a lot of people at the Mountaineers who became an important to me.  I joined the club immediately after moving to Spokane in 1977, starting with the Mountain School which was their classic introduction to all things outdoors.   By 1980, I was the Mountain School climbing chairman.  You form strong bonds through outdoor pursuits.  About that time, I went to the Moiese Bison Range to take wildlife pictures.  The manager there told me about woman who was coming from medical school in Tucson to Spokane and she liked the outdoors.  He said I should give her a jingle, take her backpacking or something, and show her what is going on.  I said sure.   To make a long story short, I followed up.  It was love at first sight.  That’s how I met my wife, Meredith.

Our first date involved a Mountaineers potluck.  That sold the relationship right there.  When we got married we had a potluck reception.  All of her friends and family from Moscow, Idaho, were in the reception line after we left the altar.   All of my friends with the Mountaineers were in the food line.

(JO)  You were on the road a lot and of course you had a wife and eventually two kids.  How did you balance your family life with your work as an outdoor writer?

RL:   The year before I got married I was in the field 200 days out of the year.  That didn’t mean I didn’t come back to the office, but I got into the field all of the time. When I got married, that changed gradually.  And when I had kids, I made the commitment to my kids.  So I was out in the field less, but when I was out in the field they often were with me.

When I co-authored Paddle Routes of the Inland Northwest, the kids played a big role.  They were too little to hike far, so Meredith and I would put them in the canoe and paddle off with them.  You can take a kid anywhere in a canoe.  I wrote a lot about kids through my career, not just my kids but other kids and other families.  The kids inspired me. They still do. There is no stronger chord to strike with readership than connection to family – everybody has family.

In my family I’m the only guy.  I have a wife and two daughters.  They all had their own lives.  They are very capable of doing well without me; it’s not like they were sitting at home twiddling their thumbs while I was off on a trip doing something.  Each of them had very full lives – and still do.   But even when my daughters were doing foreign language programs we always found ways to get together for outdoor adventures.  We vacationed more in tents than in hotels. When Brook was in Spain, we got together to hike the Pyrenees.  We joined Hillary during her year in Chile to hike in Patagonia.  When the girls were on different sides of the globe,  we all met in Bolivia for an Andes hiking adventure on an ancient trail over a 15,600-foot pass.   We have a strong outdoor connection.  It’s where our family functions the best.

Drop barriers, work together – and the NRA

(JO)  Conservation has been a focus of your life since growing up in Montana, and as an outdoor writer.  In the Upper Columbia River region, conservation advocacy has been strongest when the “sporting” and “environmental” communities have worked together and, increasingly, with our region’s tribes, to protect rivers, forests, and habitat for fish and wildlife.  Seen from this perspective, some people have stood out and provided leadership:  Dr. Dick Rivers and Dean Lydig come to mind.  And also you.  Despite important conservation gains in the Upper Columbia, we face continued and evolving threats to the natural world that make our region so special.  Do you have advice for conservation leaders in the Inland Northwest?

RL:   The advice I would give:  work together.  I’m just not sure it’s possible.

I admire conservation nonprofits.   The workers make huge sacrifices in their lives for the sake of the environment.  In an ideal world conservationists of all persuasions could be so much more effective if they dropped barriers.

The reason I say I’m not sure that’s possible is because I, to some degree, failed at that in my own career.  For instance I got on the wrong side of the NRA for pointing out that they were being divisive by being uncompromising as well as by denouncing conservation groups like the Sierra Club. [‘Vote your gun’ promotes narrow minds.  The Spokesman-Review. July 1, 2004.] That happened at a conference here in Spokane.  I went from an NRA darling to a dog.   Washington Post.  July 10, 2004] [NRA and Outdoor Writers Have Falling-Out.  Head of Gun Group Rebuked For Attack on Sierra Club.  Washington Post.  July 10, 2004]

NRA president Kayne Robinson came in here saying that their 4 million members would not compromise their gun-rights positions. Period. A lawmaker willing to rape the land was OK in their books as long as he was a staunch supporter of 2nd Amendment rights.

I’m saying why don’t you walk the common ground and work for that.  The NRA is supposed to be for wildlife and hunting, too.

The NRA wouldn’t do that. As they’d done to other writers who strayed from their reservation, they tried to blackball me here Spokane and to some degree they did.  NRA-influenced sportsmen groups cut me off from most of what they were doing.  I see that as opportunity lost.  It didn’t hurt me at all – I still had plenty to write about.  But I could have been more effective for the sporting groups and the common ground that we all want to conserve for fish and wildlife.  That cold shoulder persists today.  That’s sad.

So I wonder if the whole idea of working together for the benefit of nature is just a pipe dream.  I don’t pretend to be wise enough in the ways of running a conservation organization to give you advice.  My job is really to cover the issues.  I just would dream that people can work together for the water, the wildlife, the land and find that common ground.

[see also Outdoors blog:  Foley, state’s last major politician who also was a hunter.  October 18, 2013.]

[JO]  In the upper Columbia region I can think of people like Bob Ligeza of the Idaho Wildlife Federation who was so devoted to protecting roadless areas because he had hunted elk there.  Or people like John Prop:  so devoted to his sport of fly fishing and to fly fishing streams.  Bob, John and other hunters and anglers were willing to stand up and be counted to protect habitat for fish and wildlife.  These conservationists are the “boots on the ground” and waders in the streams.  They know these places and often are devoted to them.  The voices of hunters and anglers willing to speak for fish and wildlife are tremendously important.  

RL:   They are.  The problem is that the politics have become so partisan. I’ve written many stories about these seasoned advocates   You’d think that conservation would be a “no-brainer” for everybody who hunts and fishes.   But the dividing lines are so rigid.  If you lean out one degree, you’re cut off in the minds of some groups.

From a writer’s point of view, those are fears that I didn’t have in making the case for conservation.  But for people in business, like a fly shop, they have to tow the line.

I know of an outdoor publication in town run by people who are deeply involved in the conservation community – but as business people they’ve had to make it pretty clear that they cannot get too much into conservation because of the politics.

To make a difference

[JO]  Hats off to you, Rich, and the people who supported you for the Outdoor Page at  The Spokesman-Review.  A great piece of work over time.  Some people might think that you had the best job in the world.  Do you think that’s true?

RL:   It’s been a damn good job and here’s why, John.  I never woke in the morning not wanting to go to work.  Never.  That’s the honest-to-God truth.  The reason is that I was going to a job where I learned something new everyday.  I had a chance to entertain people, to inform people, and to make a difference.  Not that I always succeeded, but I had that chance.

It wasn’t stamping carburetors out on an assembly line.   I was trying to do something different everyday.  The meat of it was to interview and highlight really special people – people who are making a difference, people who are standouts in some way.  Or a high school kid who was interested in bird-watching of all things, the most geeky thing a teen could do.  I would find these people and write about them.   That was really fun – and it still is.  I haven’t lost my interest in these people.

I recall a dad, he was a lawyer, who wanted to talk to me because his kid was interested in journalism:  “He really is interested in this.  But I looked at how much money journalists make – not much – and I thought my gawd, I can’t imagine that.”   I said, “Yeah, it’s a factor, especially if  you have to raise a family..”

But I also had a doctor – I’m not going to mention his name, we all know him – who put it in perspective for me at his retirement dinner,  a small gathering.   He asked for suggestions on what to do with his free time.  He came up to me personally and I gave him a few examples.  I told him I admired him for saving lives – what higher calling is there than that?  He told me he admired me for living life fully through my career.  He said, “I’ll be trying to catch up to you through my retirement and I’ll never get there.”  And there was this look of sadness on his face, like that time is gone.  One thing that’s been important to me is to live a life rich with the outdoors as I worked.

(JO)  And live life fully.  

RL:   Yes, exactly.

Keeping conservation on the table

(JO)  Rich, as you look back 40 years – nearly 41 years of reporting as the outdoor writer at The Spokesman-Review, what do you consider to be your most important contribution?   [Rich Landers’ Outdoor Blog evolves;  S-R’s Eli Francovich takes over.]

RL:   I’ve been looking through my stories, organizing some things.  I covered a lot of ground.  I would have to say my persistence is  important.  Not just being a “one-shot wonder”for conservation.  I tried to spotlight all sorts of interests:  in sports, and people of wide variety.  The whole bottom line was to show how they’re all connected when it came to natural resources.  Without healthy environments,  the hunter, the fisher, the bird watcher, the huckleberry picker, the hiker — we’re all screwed.   Making those connections was a thread that ran through by work all those years.  So just the persistence in being there for almost 41 years and keeping conservation on the table has got to be the bottom line for me.  And raising a good family..

I really had it out with the animal rights people for a little while because they were very one-dimensional.  A lot of groups are motivated to advocate wildlife because pictures of sad animal situations easily part money from celebrities and little old ladies who don’t look at the big picture.   Take Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society of the United States.   After one of several stories I wrote about the group’s poor cost-benefit ratio for charitable contributions, he got really angry.  He didn’t call me.  He called my sports editor, Joe Palmquist.  He asked, “Joe, why do you keep this guy around?  This guy is a redneck and he’s not doing you guys any good.”  Joe told me he replied, “Yeah, but he’s a liberal redneck.  He’s perfect for newspapers.”

Social media and Journalism:  connections

(JO)  You and I both went through this transition from typewriters to computers. We have lived through a time of rapidly accelerating communicating technology.   People seem to spend less time outdoors, and more time at keyboards and buried in their phones.  Kids, too.  Time spent on keyboards and in front of screens is time not spent outdoors – along streams or fishing, on hiking trails or skiing, or taking in a sunset.   

RL:   Those kids who are geeking with their phones, learning those skills on social media are the ones getting the high-paying jobs nowadays.  They’re often the ones who are telling the world what is going on.  So they’re very important.   Part of the job now in journalism is to be connected, to know how to operate in all those platforms.  I would certainly never put down a kid who has his face in his phone because he knows what he’s doing.  I wish those kids would get out a little more, and some of them do.  Hooray. My hopes ride with them.

It’s hard to believe that I started on typewriters and went through the various different computer platforms and then laptops, cell phones.  The internet came online for the public during my career.  Cameras went to digital during my career.   There are so many things.  GPS became available to every citizen during my career.  These are things we didn’t have.  There’s a whole ton of stuff going on.  It’s these young kids who are going to use these tools and make it or break it.

What I did during my career really doesn’t mean a damn thing to them.  They are starting out on a fresh track.  If I were to give them some advice, it would be to stay clean on social media because you’re leaving a track record that will follow you the rest of your life.

Standing the middle ground on topics such as wolf recovery or guns is the scariest place to be when everyone is so partisan.  But it’s really the place that might be the route that gets you the farthest.  That said, if you’ve got really good opinions on one side or the other, go for it.  I could not have lived with myself to keep my mouth shut when I had a solid opinion on certain things.

I’ve often said that any sportsman who is not an environmentalist is a fool or at least uninformed. Even that common sense phrase is divisive; it separates me from people who will listen to me and those who won’t.   So my advice is to seek the middle ground if you can, and let the truth prevail.

Track the middle ground

(JO)   We also live in a time of “fake news” attacks from the White House on reporters.  Journalism is under a lot of pressure in our nation and around the world.   You’ve been a reporter you’re entire adult life.  What advice would you give high school and college students contemplating a life in journalism?  You went through this, making decisions to become a reporter while growing up in Montana.

RL:   Same advice.  Stay clean on social media.  Track the middle ground.  Try to become an expert on what you’re covering.  Be as immersed as you can be.

When I was lucky enough to take Sandra Day O’Connor fishing – I actually spent a day with her –  I wasn’t with her to write a story.  I was with her to take her fishing. But I knew and I think she knew that there would be a story come out of it.  To prepare for that I read her books.  I did a ton of research because I would have this one moment that hardly any other journalist in the world would get.  I knew everything I could about Sandra Day O’Connor.  After returning from the St. Joe River, I had two hours to write a story that found its way all over the world the next day.  [O’Connor picks wade over row. The Spokesman-Review, July 20, 2005.]

The point is that you make the most of you opportunities.  You prepare for them.  Even interviewing the high school girl in the youth symphony who was a hunter – I prepared for that interview. When  you’re writing about somebody it might be the only story that will ever be published about their life and it’s a big deal for them.  And it might be the most important story of your life, too.

Just the guy with notebook and ink

(JO)  Rich, anything else you’d like to share? Any closing thoughts?

RL:  I never wrote a story that I couldn’t have improved.  Never.  Another interview, another rewrite, another perspective, maybe another couple of paragraphs –  they all could have been better.  As a writer I’m a little bit embarrassed to be interviewed at all because my job is really to interview others – other people who have had way more impact than I have, other people who are way more skilled, better skiers, way better at many things.  I’m just the guy with the notebook and the ink.

No one is perfect, and I’m a perfect example of that.

(JO)  From the outside looking in, Rich, it’s really been one incredible career.

RL:   It’s been an incredible career.  I couldn’t have done it without making it a lifestyle and without the support of my family – the support of a family who also adopted that outdoors lifestyle.