Bill Clinton was in office, O.J. Simpson was on trial, and shows like Seinfeld and The X-Files dominated TV. Cell phones first appeared on the market, the height of technology and the size of bricks. And the Internet was suddenly available for public consumption, the World Wide Web a mysterious place accessed through AOL and a funny-sounding dial-up connection.
It was also the year 15 journalists spent two grueling weeks in Montana in July, meeting local experts, camping under the stars and learning as much as they possibly could. The experimental trip was designed to test Frank Allen's wild theory:
That environment journalists might be well served by actually spending some time in the environment.
Twenty years later, it has become abundantly clear that Frank's hunch was accurate. That fabled inaugural adventure became the foundation of IJNR's Institutes, one-of-a-kind programs that to this day remain relevant, informative, restorative, and, some have argued, life-changing. Since that first group of journalists lit out into Big Sky Country, nearly 900 Fellows have taken part in more than 65 Institutes. Collectively, the tens of thousands of stories they've written have reached literally hundreds of millions of readers, listeners, and viewers.
Like all non-profits, we've had our ups and downs. Ultimately, though, the story of IJNR isn't about how we've changed over the years. It's about the values on which IJNR was built, and how those haven't changed - despite the fact that the media landscape is vastly different now than it was then.
Because here at IJNR, we have this whacky idea that good journalism still matters.
We believe that stories are better when they're full of real people, in real places, facing real issues. We believe journalists deserve to see and smell and hear the topics they cover. And we believe the public has a right to know what's happening in their own backyard, whether the scope of that yard is their neighborhood, their watershed, or the planet.
Frank has been known to say that he thinks of journalists as "sources of light, rather than sources of heat." The role of journalism is to elucidate - to pull back the curtain on the stories perpetually playing out around us.
Here at IJNR, we believe it's our job to provide the fuel that makes that light possible.
A lot can change in two decades. Fads and administrations come and go. Technology changes so fast, no one knows what's coming or going. IJNR, though - we're pretty steady. We'd even say we're a worthwhile investment. A contribution of $50, or even $100, to help make sure that journalists keep shedding light on the world? Sounds like a bargain.
In all seriousness, though: We rely on the support of individuals to see us safely through each year. We want to keep doing what we're doing. And we truly can't do it without your help.
Please join us in celebrating these past 20 years full of forests, farms, stormy coastlines, priceless sources, animal encounters, late-night discussions, and badly treated buses. And please give generously, to help make sure the adventure continues!
Dave, Adam, Melissa, Carrie & Mike