Choteau Acantha ("The Montana Gap")

A person with short gray hair, glasses, a black jacket and a red patterned scarf stands holding a microphone during a meeting.
Local Choteau residents speak at a community forum organized by the Choteau Acantha and Solutions Journalism Network. 65 people attended.

The Choteau Acantha is a weekly paper based in Choteau, Montana, serving a county of roughly 1,700 residents. As part of a SJN-led collaboration between 11 western Montana newspapers plus Montana PBS, the Acantha has participated in the "Montana Gap" project, which published its first package on rural economic sustainability in January 2018. That work has been complemented by audience engagement efforts including listening sessions and post-publication community discussions across the state.

In February 2018, the Acantha organized a community forum focused on residents aged 25 to 44, the demographic group that has left Choteau in the greatest numbers over the past 15 years. Though this was the first community engagement activity she had ever done, Editor Melody Martinsen has been actively engaged in civic life and views the Acantha as playing an important role in finding solutions to problems in the community. Whether that means going to a public meeting and sharing something she’s learned through the Montana Gap project, or getting on the phone and calling people in power to look at certain issues, she intentionally engages beyond the purposes of gathering feedback on a story.




  • Community Forum: In February 2018, the Acantha organized a community forum to talk about the Montana Gap stories and wider issues of economic development, particularly solutions for retaining residents between 25 and 44 years old. Martinsen advertised the meeting in the paper, on social media, on the Acantha’s website, and wrote an editorial inviting people to the meeting. 65 people attended, and half were in the 25-to-44 age group. Martinsen intentionally guided the conversation, calling on specific people to speak, and inviting comments on challenges, opportunities, and actionable items that the community as a whole could work on.




  • Link to ongoing community efforts: Choteau is going through a formal community assessment led by the Montana Economic Developers Association (MEDA), which is expected to lead to concrete projects for reinvigorating the local economy. Martinsen rolled the suggestions from the community forum into this ongoing community project, and encouraged forum participants to sign up to be a part of the MEDA initiative. At the event, she took names and phone numbers, especially of 25-44 year old participants, to bring them into the community assessment process. The ensuing dialogue that has since yielded five citizen-led action planning committees.