The Land Desk: A public lands newsletter

With the dawning of a new year comes a new source of news, insight, and commentary: the Land Desk. It is a newsletter about Place. Namely that place where humanity and the landscape intersect. The geographical center of my coverage will be the Four Corners Country and Colorado Plateau, land of the Ute, Diné, Pueblo, Apache, and San Juan Southern Paiute people. From there, coverage will spread outward into the remainder of the “public-land states” of the Interior West, with excursions to Wyoming to look at the coal and wind-power industries and Nevada to check out water use in Las Vegas and so on.

This is the time and the place for a truth-telling, myth-busting, fair yet sometimes furious journalism like The Land Desk will provide. This is where climate change is coming home to roost in the form of chronic drought, desertification, and raging wildfires. This is where often-toxic politics are playing out on the nation’s public lands. This is the sacrifice zone of the nation’s corporate extractive industries, yet it is also the playground and wilderness-refuge for the rest of the nation and the world. This is the headwaters for so many rivers of the West. And this is where Indigenous peoples’ fight for land-justice is the most potent, whether it be at Bears Ears or Chaco Canyon or Oak Flat.

The Land Desk will provide a voice for this region and a steady current of information, thought, and commentary about a wide range of topics, from climate change to energy to economics to public lands. Most importantly, the information will be contextualized so that we—my readers (and collaborators) and I—can better understand what it all means. Perhaps we can also help chart a better and more sustainable course for the region to follow into the future, to try to realize Wallace Stegner’s characterization of this place as the “native home of hope.”

http://landdesk.substack.com

I’ve essentially been doing the work of the Land Desk for more than two decades. I got my start back in 1996 as the sole reporter and photographer for the weekly Silverton Standard & the Miner. I went from there to High Country News fifteen years ago, and that wonderful publication has nurtured and housed most of my journalism ever since. But after I went freelance four years ago, my role at HCN was gradually diminished and appears soon to be ending. While I have branched out in the years since, writing three books as well as articles for Sierra, The Gulch, Telluride Magazine, Writers on the Range, and so forth, I’ve increasingly run up against what I call the freelancer bottleneck, which is what happens when you produce more content more quickly than you can sell it. That extra content ends up homeless, or swirling around in my brain, or residing in semi-obscurity on my personal website.

I’m not messing around. The Land Desk is by no means a repository for the stories no one wants. It is intended to be the home for the best of my journalism and a place where you can find an unvarnished, unique, deep perspective on some of the most interesting landscapes and communities in the world. My hope is that it will give me the opportunity to write the stories that I’ve long wanted to write and that the region needs. If my hopes are realized, the Land Desk will one day expand and welcome other Western journalists to contribute.

That’s where you come in. In order for this venture to do more than just get off the ground, it needs to pay for itself. In order to do that, it needs paying subscribers (i.e., you). In other words, I’m asking for your support. If you’ve got cash to spare, please consider becoming a Founding Member of the Land Desk by forking out $100 or more (you can fill in your chosen amount at Founding Member slot), which will get you a year’s subscription plus a t-shirt and a signed copy of my forthcoming book, Sagebrush Empire.

Or, for the low price of $6/month ($60/year), regular subscribers will receive a minimum of three dispatches each week, including:

  • 1 Land Bulletin (news, analysis, commentary, essay, long-form narrative, or investigative piece);
  • 1 Data Dump (anything from a set of numbers with context to full-on data-visual stories); and,
  • 1 News Roundup, which will highlight a sample of the great journalism happening around the West;
  • Reaction to and contextualization of breaking news, as needed (e.g. this week I’m sending out a bulletin on the latest legal development in the Gold King Mine disaster saga).
  • Additionally, I’ll be throwing in all sorts of things, from on-the-ground reporter notebooks to teasers from upcoming books to the occasional fiction piece to throwbacks from my journalistic archives.

Can’t afford even that? No worries. Just sign up for a free subscription and get occasional dispatches, or contact me and we can work something out.

I just launched the Land Desk earlier this week and already subscribers are getting content. Today I published a Data Dump on a southwestern indicator river setting an alarming record. Also this week, look for a detailed analysis tracing the roots of the recent invasion of the Capitol to the Wise Use movement of the early 1990s. In the not-so distant future I’ll be publishing “Carbon Capture Convolution,” about the attempt to keep a doomed coal-fired power plant running by banking on questionable technology and sketchy federal tax credits. Plus the Land Desk will have updated national park visitor statistics, a look back on how the pandemic affected Western economies, and forward-looking pieces on what a Biden administration will mean for public lands.

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Support Jonathan’s Journalism

If you’d like to give a little extra to help keep the words a-flowing, or maybe just to buy Jonathan a cup o’ coffee, please feel free to leave me a tip in the little tip jar here.

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3 Comments

  1. Looking forward to Mr Thompson’s upcoming work .
    I’ve followed him through HCN for yeats years.
    Put me down for a sixty dollar bill .
    Good luck , hasta luego
    Jake Smith

    Like

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