Bill Lambrecht, a man some call one of the best journalists in America, has arrived in Butte to share his wisdom about the current political turmoil in Washington, D.C. and how the nation can find a way forward in these strange new times.
Lambrecht, a Washington, D.C. political and investigative reporter for the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, is in town this week to kick off the 2019 Mining City Writing Project, which brings writers for a week-long residency to Butte.
Two years ago, when the project commenced, the Mining City series included Montana fiction and nonfiction writers Megan McNamer, Tess Fahlgren, Kim Zupan and Sid Gustafson.
This time the project will focus on award-winning journalists from around the country.
Lambrecht is a rare breed in the newspaper industry. At 68, he has survived even past retirement age.
One issue he plans to discuss during his brown bag lunch Tuesday is the changing face of journalism and its impact on society. He will have additional public appearances this week. (See information box.)
“We’ve lost over half the workforce in a decade’s time,” he said by phone Monday evening. “Some 1,800 papers have gone out of business in the last 15 years or so. It’s left a lot of communities without a newspaper of any sort.”
Fresh from a long, slow drive on Interstate 90 from Missoula, Lambrecht agreed to talk to The Montana Standard as soon as he got into Butte Monday evening. He barely had time to check into his accommodations but he says he has already fallen in love with the Big Sky state.
This isn’t Lambrecht’s first time in Montana.
In the early 2000s, he spent time in Three Forks, as part of a deep dive into the Missouri River. He wrote dozens of newspaper stories as he spent time researching, doing on-the-ground reporting on the “Big Muddy.”
Like most journalists, Lambrecht was driven by his own curiosity to chase a story across 2,341 river miles to get to the bottom of a collision between industry, history, endangered species and the river restoration.
“I wondered what’s going on here. It was a mystery to me,” he said.
The outcome of his travel and exploration was the nonfiction book, “Big Muddy Blues: True Tales and Twisted Politics Along Lewis and Clark’s Missouri River.” It was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2005.
Lambrecht said a grand story about water politics tugged at his sleeve, in part, because water has a “deep pull” on him. Lambrecht has been an environmental reporter in the past and he lives along the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland with his wife, Sandra.
The Lambrechts own a newspaper of their own — The Bay Weekly in Annapolis. It is the largest weekly newspaper covering the Chesapeake Bay.
Originally from Illinois, Lambrecht thought his college friends who wanted to become lawyers were "boring." He chose journalism instead because "you could do something different every day," he said.
David McCumber, editor of the Standard, said Butte is “lucky to have Lambrecht here.”
“Such writers have never been more important and needed. We’re lucky he loves Montana enough to visit in February, which says a lot about the man,” McCumber said.
Lambrecht has won the Sigma Delta Chi Award and three Raymond Clapper awards and has been nominated for a Pulitzer more than once.
In addition to writing “Big Muddy Blues,” Lambrecht put pen to paper to write the book “Dinner at the New Gene Café: How Genetic Engineering Is Changing What We Eat, How We Live, and the Global Politics of Food,” in 2001.
McCumber says Lambrecht was ahead of his time when he wrote about gene-altered ingredients on our dinner plates.
But this week, Lambrecht will be largely focused on the political era we, as a nation, now find ourselves in.
“I want to talk about some of what I think we might be able to do in the months and years ahead. And I’ll talk a lot about the 2020 election,” Lambrecht said just before heading out for his first Butte meal. “It’s a very big time ahead of us, with a great deal at stake.”