The Hellgate Lance (Missoula, Montana) 1964-current, November 23, 2015, Image 2

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2 News The Lance Se:m.icentennial: Debra McKinney /, The Lance Zach Strauch/ Editor in Chief room was her refuge. She was an outsider. She was lost. Her fam· ily was split. She either walked or rode a bicycle to school every day. John Forssen, former Adviser of the Lance, saved her life. \He (Forssen) was intimidating. He was a big presence, but he had a big heart. He always stood in front of the class and shouted, 'Accura· cy! accuracy! accuracy!\' said Debra McKinney, former Associate Editor of The Lance. She did eventually have to branch out of her safe zone. Her four-year term was up. It was time to move on to another one five blocks away. In 1979, McKinney walked across the graduation stage at the University of Montana with a journalism degree in hand. She was well-prepared for what was to come. A fourth-generation family newspaper in Hillsboro, Ore., The Ravalli Republic, The Mis- soulian, and The Anchorage Daily News came. . She thought her Alaskan life would be sea· sonal and short. She's been there--full time--since 1984. She's written pieces about substance abuse, murder, mental illness, incest, child abuse, and suicide. And why Alaskan men shouldn't wear Spee· - dos. She won the C.B. Blethen Memorial Award for distinguished feature writing in 1994 when she climbed into a four-wheel-drive truck, rumbled up a muddy road littered with pond- sized potholes, and profiled three homestead- ers living above Eagle River in Southcentral Alaska. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in the late '80s for a 10-part series on alcoholism and suicide rates in Alaska Natives called ''People in Peril.\ She was in peril as well--in a much different way. Mter the first, second, and third rounds of gut-wrenching, disparaging layoffs passed by at her home paper in Anchorage, the fourth came. She was in it. So, instead of covering the misfortunes of others--having a byline with her name and staff position, a designated office space--for a newspaper, she began to do it on her own. No longer constrained to word limits, paper space, or what time she goes to work in the morning, McKinney is a freelancer. She's worked on a horde of different proj· ects, including collaborating on a book with a blind man named Dan Bigley, who lost his sight after being mauled by a grizzly bear. It wasn't originally meant to be that way, though. In the adolescent stages of the book, which was titled \Beyond the Bear,'; McKinney had envisioned a third-person narrative. That was the plan. Things changed. McKinney's publisher in New York decided the project would be more appealing as a memoir, with McKinney and Bigley working to· gether to orchestrate a first-person perspective. So the veteran Alaskan journalist and young blind man, who was a passionate musi· cian, hiker, and skier, collaborated on his memoir. ''I just loved how he embraced life,\ McKin· ney said. The project was a far-cry from men in Spee· dos, substance abuse, or mental illness--but it embodied many of the same traits as some of the other pieces McKinney had written. After the initial layoffs were handed down in Anchorage, McKinney was asked to cover murder trials. Her first assignment was to cover the trial of a machete murderer who'd gone on a killing spree. Understandably, she was terrified. Daily deadlines, dead people, blood, and killers became McKinney's thoroughfare. She grew to enjoy the material and discovered a passion for the writing--which was the polar opposite of anything else she'd ever done. It's been the basis for much of the work she's pro· · duced since she left her position in Anchorage. It was what clued her in to Dan Bigley's story. It became part of hers, but she hasn't fin- ished that one yet. 1 1 , L l J 1 , , .J r , THE HELLGATE LANCE 900 S. Higgins Missoula, MT 598W ( 406) 728-2402 hhslance@mcps.k 12.mt.us Editor-ln · ·Chlef Zach Strauch Assistant Editor Ben Willstein Editorials Editor Cy Burchenal Backpage Editor Nick Zetterberg OnHne Editor Isaiah Hanson Sports Editor & Focus Editor Chase Koenig News Editor Donal Lakatua Features Editor Natasha Slotnick Copy Editor Maddie Keiper Photography Editor Codon Hill Arts and Entertainment Editor Molly Gray Assistant Features Editor Sophia Agne Assistant News Editor EvanKalm Assistant Editorials Editor Annie Zavitz Photographer Koby Silverman Assistant Sports Editor Tobin Haefele Assistant Arts and Entertainment Editor & Business Manager Megan Frank Staff Writers Nick Hanser Grant Porter Adviser Publisher Usa Hendrix Jill Derryberry The Lance is an award-winning, school-spon- sored student publication of Hellgate High School. The Lance has been publishing since 1964. Ad rates are available upon request. Opin- ions expressed are not necessarily those of the entire paper. its advlsers, or Hellgate High School. \- ---- ------------------ ------------ -- ---------------------------- -- --~======================== == ========--=======--------- ----

The Hellgate Lance (Missoula, Montana), 23 Nov. 2015, located at <http://montananewspapers.org/lccn/TheHellgateLance/2015-11-23/ed-1/seq-2/>, image provided by MONTANA NEWSPAPERS, Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.