Looking back at 18 years of the ‘Best of the Flathead’

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In Sunday’s edition of the Daily Inter Lake, you will find the 18th annual “Best of the Flathead” magazine.

Of course, for those of us who live here “Best of the Flathead” is somewhat redundant. It might as well be called “The Best of the Best” because, face it, we all know how lucky we are to live here in the best part of the Last Best Place.

Indeed, I’ve been counting my blessings since 1984 when my old boss Dan Black hired me to be wire editor and made me promise to stay for at least a year! Now in year 35 of my tenure at the Inter Lake, all I can say is, “Thanks, Dan.”

When Dan retired in 1999, I was fortunate to be considered as his replacement as managing editor, and I’ve held that position since April 2000. One of the best things that has happened since then at the Inter Lake is the annual readers’ poll that started in July 2001. I’m pleased that I have had a small role in it, but there have been literally dozens of people over the years who have contributed to making the Best of the Flathead happen.

Dave Reese was editor of the publication for its first three years (when it was actually called “Best of the Flathead Valley”), and then in its fourth year, it was put together by John Blodgett, who now is the editor at The Western News in Libby. But by far the most important contribution to “Best of the Flathead” came from Features Editor Lynnette Hintze, who has been at the helm of the publication since 2005. She’s devoted countless hours to tallying votes, assigning photos, writing up the results, and designing and proofreading pages for the last 14 issues. Let me tell you, when the last page is sent to the printer, Lynnette breathes a well-deserved sigh of relief — and we are eternally grateful for her herculean efforts.

Lynnette’s work couldn’t come to fruition without the work of many others at the Inter Lake, however — from the advertising staff to the print shop, page designer Matt Baldwin, and of course our great photographers Brenda Ahearn and Casey Kreider.

Another unsung hero of “Best of the Flathead” is Whitney Spencer, our advertising sales manager. She is in charge of moderating the votes as they arrive online. That involves finding multiple nominations for the same person or business that have slight variations such as misspellings or “first name only” plus business name vs. “last name only” plus business name. May not sound hard, but when you realize that we had 95,566 nominations in 204 categories, trust me it adds up to hours of frustration!

OK, so let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. As I mentioned, we had 204 categories this year. That’s up from 60 categories in 2001. We also had more than 1,000 winners listed this year compared to under 200 the first year. The section has also grown from 24 pages to 56 pages in the past 18 years.

Almost 20,000 people voted in the Best of the Flathead this year, whereas I suspect we would have been lucky to have 500 ballots the first year. Although we did take votes online at www.dailyinterlake.com starting with the first contest, very few votes were received that way compared to the people who clipped out their nomination form in the newspaper and mailed it in or dropped it off at our office.

It’s remarkable how much the internet has changed the way we do things in the newspaper business. This year, for instance, there were 143,000 votes cast for the finalists across all categories.

Let me tell you, if we had received that many votes when we were counting paper ballots by hand, you would have had several staff members hospitalized from nervous exhaustion!

Back then, we would have to tabulate the votes for each category one at a time using the print ballots, then add in the online votes and determine the winner. It was a long, grueling process aided by members of the business staff and the advertising staff and made tolerable only by the promise of pizza and soda while folks worked late into the evening.

Well, now you know the rest of the story — or as Lynnette wrote in the introduction to the 2006 issue — “the BEST of the story.” I hope you’ll take time to savor the results in today’s special edition, and let the winners know you appreciate them!

Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana, and can be reached at fmiele@dailyinterlake.com.

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