Derek Farr spent six years as a reporter in Pennsylvania and western Wyoming before he decided that journalism wasn't exactly his thing. Covering the energy industry in Wyoming, he came to the realization that "one side was more right than the other."
"Some of the things that were going on required what I felt to be somebody pointing out how both sides weren't really equal," he said. "One side wasn't playing by the same rules that everybody else was playing by. ... That's when I decided I wanted to be the one to point it out on the front end—that inequity."
A Colorado native and former international river raft guide, Farr landed in Riggins in January and the journalist-turned-advocate went to work as executive director of BetterIdaho.org, a web-based nonprofit that bills itself as "a communications shop for progressive ideas."
Though founded in 2013, the website had a low profile until Farr took the reins, pushing out a steady stream of progressive- and left-leaning analysis and commentary on Idaho politics.
Farr took a few minutes to talk with Boise Weekly about Better Idaho's backers, its mission and where it fits in the Gem State's media landscape
Is Better Idaho affiliated with any other organization or organizations?
We're an affiliate of [Minnesota-based] ProgressNow. It has a national organization that provides me, for instance, with things like web hosting. ... The way it works is we get these messaging tools to use from ProgressNow and we're in charge of raising money so we can turn the lights on. ... Our donations are 100 percent Idaho and one of the reasons is it's very difficult to get people from other states and around the nation thinking that there's any sort of progressive vibe in Idaho at all. They're definitely wrong about that and we're proving them wrong every day.
What is Better Idaho, if not journalistic?
It definitely has a watchdog element to it, but our big goal is civic participation through information. ... A lot of people tend to look above the state level—they'll know what's going on at the Supreme Court but they won't know what's going on with their state legislature or what issues are local. The reason that's important is because if they learn the state issues they'll become more involved. ... By doing that they'll be able to see a lot more movement because the scale of the mechanism is so much smaller. As soon as you have somebody see that they can affect public policy in a positive way, you have them hooked for life as being a civic participant.
So, you have an educative bent, but with some pretty clear allegiances ideologically?
We're definitely progressive. I'll tell you the one thing that I really see as causing problems for Idaho is that there's a narrative now that you're either on the far right or you're a lefty. Even people who are stalwart Republicans for years and years are being disenfranchised by the fact that they get called a RINO [Republican In Name Only]. Everything is either extreme right or we cast you away. I'm trying to pick up all the people who are being shunned away by the extreme right. ... Cooperation, working together and collaborating on creating decent, sane public policy is a lot more effective than pure ideology. And I'm not an ideologue, I'm a pragmatist.
Do you see yourself as the counterpoint to the Idaho Reporter and Idaho Freedom Foundation?
I'm not really comfortable with that. I see them as staking a really, really firm ground out on the far right. My audience I see as tending to be a little more moderate, toward the center and people on the left. It seems like there's almost two political parties: your moderate Republicans who want to work on solutions. ... Then there's the far right, and they label themselves as being the people of political purity and everybody else are the heretics. [IFF and Idaho Reporter] have a firm foothold and do an excellent job communicating to that audience, but our policy positions are more aligned with that cooperative-minded Republican and cooperative-minded Democrat.
Is your purpose similar to Idaho Reporter's?
Yeah. You probably noticed their antagonism toward us has increased about tenfold. ... We do the same types of functions, but we have much different tactics.
Do you advocate less than they do?
We do that as well. We take strong stances. We're doing a lot of that same kind of work that they're doing but we have completely different policy positions and completely different tactics. What we're trying to accomplish is more cooperation. ... Let's make some positive steps for the state and let's not die on our ideological ground.
What are the goals for Better Idaho?
Our short-term goal goes from here to 2016. Our goal there is to try to draw out to the people of Idaho the difference between voting for people who are beholden to an ideology and people who are beholden to an idea that they want to make the state a better place to live. ... Our long-term goal is to have Better Idaho become an institution that everybody understands they can turn to to get information about state and local politics from people with a progressive, cooperative mindset. ... We want to claim the legitimate ground of the mainstream of Idaho.
How do you feel about Idaho media?
The journalists in Idaho are fantastic. The real journalists, not the advocacy journalists. The ones who go down there and do the grind behind the desk, or at the Capitol, or at the police station. But this is kind of where it folds into where I was as a journalist. I could do a good job covering a story that had two sides and present both with an air of equality. But what I really wanted to do was be able to say they're not really equal—this side is on the right side of history and this side is yesterday's news. That's the role that I'm filling—I'm the embodiment of my repressed id as a reporter.