The Idaho State Journal and me

By Billie Johnson

I celebrated my birthday on the Winter Solstice. When I first learned that it’s the shortest day of the year and excitedly told my mom such, she replied “Well, in 1972 it was the longest day in history!” Despite a long and miserable labor, she ensured each birthday’s gifts comprised things I wanted or needed or something she wanted me to have. I could count on socks and underwear along with action figures and athletic equipment.

As I got older and it got weirder for her to buy me underwear, she switched up her routine and found a different yearly gift: an annual subscription to the Idaho State Journal.

I had graduated from college, lived in my own house, and could easily afford a subscription, but it wasn’t on my radar. Mom got dreadfully tired of trying to have conversations about current events and having to fill me in on the facts first. In those days when the Internet was so young, the Idaho State Journal was our source for news, commentary and keeping a pulse on southeast Idaho.

My relationship with “the paper” goes back farther than my first subscription. The comics were as much a part of my childhood as Care Bears and Ninja Turtles, and I ruined many an egg of Silly Putty flattening it over the characters to see it lift the print.

In middle school, I won $10 and a Webster’s dictionary when I submitted a question to the Junior Editor’s Quiz asking what a terrapin was. I’d had my box turtle Myrtle for 3-4 years at the time and knew darn well what a terrapin was, but I couldn’t believe how many people didn’t. That was the first time my picture was in the paper, and I still have a yellowed, tattered copy in a bin of keepsakes in the basement.

“Dear Abby” was another favorite. Her well-reasoned advice, along with respectful dissenting opinions from readers and her occasional mea-culpa shaped how I view many issues as well as how I argue or discuss. But it was my tenure as a high school and college athlete that had me most looking forward to the Idaho State Journal. My teammates and I would race to grab our families’ rubber-banded rolls to see who might have gotten an action shot. The few times I did may have been as thrilling as the plays themselves.

A couple years ago, when I became a somewhat regular columnist for the ISJ, I’d never really written before. I don’t keep a journal or a diary, so I got to experience a new-to-me kind of growth and reflection with each piece. On more than one occasion, I sat down with a guiding thought only to have something totally different sprout from the text. I love to experience that self-evolution as I write, and I hold fast to the hope that if I can grow and change with critical thinking and reflection, others can too.

That hope’s been tested in recent weeks as I’ve watched the story of the fired lunch lady go viral. Where is the critical thinking on the part of the readers? People are responding vehemently — not to the firing of the worker but rather to the media coverage of the firing and Ms. Bowden’s either sheer luck or brilliant mastering of social media to bolster her side of this story.

While I credit the ISJ headlines for such sensationalism, come on, people. Think. There’s got to be more to the story. I’d bet my bin of keepsakes in the basement, that there’s more behind this — and many other stories — than the general public knows.

My Idaho State Journal renewal notice is currently mixed in with my stack of bills. Although I get disappointed or frustrated with headlines, reporting and commentary, I also see wonderful stories of our community. I want to see my hometown newspaper sustain, and I want to keep up on local happenings. I realize I’m not always going to agree with what I see, but I can think for myself, and gather as many facts as possible while developing opinions, spreading news, and engaging in constructive discussion. I encourage others and the Idaho State Journal to do the same. Please do the same.

Other reasons aside, as I tackle that stack of post-Christmas bills and send in my subscription renewal, my main reason for doing so will be memories of birthdays past and recalling that once upon a time the Idaho State Journal was a gift from my mother.

Billie Johnson of Pocatello holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering and a master’s degree from Idaho State University. She works as an engineer, is an avid community volunteer, and maintains a blog about her adventures in a cow suit at