HELENA — Longtime Montana journalist and political reporter Charles S. “Chuck” Johnson has passed away.
Lee Newspapers, which Johnson had worked for, was the first to report on his passing. MTN has been able to confirm the information with friends of Johnson.
Chuck was regarded highly and well-liked by his fellow reporters that covered the happenings at the Montana State Capitol and politics in the Treasure State. He was always happy to take the extra time with a new reporter to teach them about Montana politics and share some of his bottomless knowledge.
Johnson was a graduate of the University of Montana School of Journalism, and in 2022 he received an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Montana State University
As noted when receiving his honorary doctorate, Johnson had a reporting career that spanned over forty years. He covered 22 Montana legislative sessions, seven governors, nine U.S. senators and 10 U.S. representatives, and reported on the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention for the Associated Press. His reporting was widely regarded as clear, fair and balanced.
Retired MTN Chief Political Reporter Mike Dennison knew Johnson for much of his over four-decade career. In a statement to MTN, Dennison reflected on his old colleague and friend:
Chuck was the consummate news professional, but, more importantly, an all-around great guy. I think that’s what made him so good — people trusted him and knew he was totally fair, so when he had to hold someone accountable and perhaps write a less-than-pleasant story about them, it had all the more credibility, because you knew he didn’t have an agenda or anything personal against the subject of the story.
He also was one of the most unassuming people I’ve ever known. People knew him, he was a public figure of sort, but you never got the sense that he cared much about recognition or getting credit for doing the difficult job that he did so well for so long.
His legacy will be many things, but a big part of it has to be his mentorship and assistance to many younger reporters (myself included), always making himself available to help us learn the journalistic ropes that he knew so well.
Born in Great Falls and raised in Helena, Johnson began his career in 1967 through an internship with the Helena Independent Record. His first full-time reporting position was for the Missoulian, where he worked from 1972 to 1974. He then returned to Helena and began reporting for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau, then at the Great Falls Tribune Capitol Bureau in Helena. His work included serving as bureau chief from 1984 to 1992. From 1992 to 2015, he served as bureau chief for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau.
Johnson retired in 2015, although from time to time he came out of retirement to report on political issues or offer his commentary on an issue or candidate.
Social media reactions to the passing of Johnson:
I was stunned and devastated this morning to receive this news. Chuck was a great mentor to me, and also a great friend. He took me and so many other young journalists in this state under his wing when we were starting out, and we all owe him so much. #MTNews #MTPol #MTLeg https://t.co/vp9HDDG8H4— Jonathon Ambarian (@JSAmbarian) March 6, 2023
Eating breakfast with Chuck was like dining with a reluctant prince. People would always stop by the table and say hi. I think he was embarrassed by the attention but always gracious and kind. #30— Phil Drake (@IR_PhilDrake) March 6, 2023
Devastated to hear this news. Chuck was a true legend and I’m so honored to have called him a friend. Sending so much love to all who love him, which makes up a massive group.https://t.co/xDlBRab6E0— Maritsa Georgiou (@MaritsaGeorgiou) March 6, 2023
Chuck hired me at 22 years old to cover the Montana Legislature, one of the only women do to so, and he had my back as a mentor and friend since. He was a walking encyclopedia who knew more about Montana politics and history than anyone. Devastating. https://t.co/EcA7fD67wg— Kathleen McLaughlin (@kemc) March 6, 2023
Great journalist. Better man. #mtnews #mtpol https://t.co/70byerzJ1B— Tom Kuglin (@IR_TomKuglin) March 6, 2023
Truly had to believe. Chuck was a truly wonderful person and has been such a staple of Montana politics. https://t.co/zLXygTmhlb— John Riley MTN (@MTJohnRiley) March 6, 2023
I'm sad to hear this and sorry to see you go, Chuck, you set the example for us all. https://t.co/5dD3P7qI4s— Jackie Coffin (@Jackie_Coffin) March 6, 2023
Chuck made us all more gentle. And more informed. He was strange and wonderful — like a good news story. https://t.co/EyZe0w5icv— Steve Bullock (@GovernorBullock) March 6, 2023
A great journalist and a gentleman, but I'll remember more than anything going to Helena Brewers games, his post-session parties, and that amazing campaign button collection. https://t.co/yOcS583bh6 via @helenaironline— Matt Volz (@mattvolz) March 6, 2023
A very sad loss. Chuck was a monument in my field and in our state. https://t.co/5uXcEeT2S3— Austin Amestoy (@AustinAmestoy) March 6, 2023
I’m so saddened to hear this news…— Zach Schermele (@ZachSchermele) March 6, 2023
Montana should be eternally grateful for the lifetime of work he put into keeping journalism alive in the state. https://t.co/vODHlXJyvw
Montana lost a trusted and respected voice this week. Few knew the inner workings of our government and could plainly explain how the happenings in Helena affect all Montanans better than Chuck. There is no doubt Chuck is one of the greats. https://t.co/RfN7rDMCHh— Rep Ryan Zinke (@RepRyanZinke) March 6, 2023
I am utterly devastated by the news of my friend and mentor @c_sjohnson's untimely passing. I spent more than three hours with Chuck on Friday. I can't believe he's gone. The state lost a honorable and decent man, and the loss is huge. https://t.co/Ojahx9RwNa— John S. Adams (@johnsadams406) March 6, 2023
Chuck Johnson was a reporter's reporter—always prepared, always speaking truth to power, and always holding people accountable. He was more than a good man, and he leaves behind one heck of a legacy on Montana.https://t.co/epJ74CCMEH— Senator Jon Tester (@SenatorTester) March 6, 2023
A huge huge hole left here in Montana’s civic fabric. I don’t think a week went by where someone in the Capitol press corps didn’t benefit from his generosity with all the memories he built up over the past 50 years. #mtpol #mtnews https://t.co/N9N5ae1hFW— Eric Dietrich (@eidietrich) March 6, 2023
Statement on the passing of Chuck Johnson, a friend and giant in political journalism. pic.twitter.com/HHE77UEfcq— Governor Greg Gianforte (@GovGianforte) March 6, 2023
Heartbroken to learn of Chuck’s passing. He was a mentor, colleague and treasured friend. Huge loss for those who knew him and for the state he loved and served so well. @mtpublicradio pic.twitter.com/5p54k3dPJE— Sally Mauk (@sallymauk) March 6, 2023
I got dropped into the 2015 #mtleg fresh out of j-school and Chuck was my north star.— Thom Bridge (@thom_g_bridge) March 6, 2023
He taught me to always start with honey, but have vinegar on hand if needed.
"We have a right to be in the room, but we don't have a right to be assholes about it."https://t.co/gBHcbJW6t6 pic.twitter.com/Wac1SU2iLX
I saw Chuck a few weeks ago in the basement of the Capitol. He came by, beaming, because he heard the Legislature’s new Copper Book was available. Said he couldn’t miss it.— Mara Silvers (@mara_silvers) March 6, 2023
He mentored so many and saw so much. A devastating loss for Montana journalism. https://t.co/QWXj3lNCNW
Dean of the Capitol press corps, patient mentor to me and a million other plucky college kids, member of the messy desk hall of fame, fellow Cubs fan.— Michael Wright (@mj_wright1) March 6, 2023
God I'll miss this guy. https://t.co/DLAgcI9LvI
Chuck was one of the best ones out there. He generously helped me and countless other young journalists at the legislature. With him, he's taking the world's largest trove of knowledge about Montana politics. Deeply sad today https://t.co/xcqhxQ6k0c— Madelyn Beck (@MadelynBeck8) March 6, 2023
Chuck was so kind and so generous to all of us. I feel so lucky to have known him and will miss him dearly. The loss to our community and Montana can’t be understated. https://t.co/tsTBQ6zXd8— Shaylee Ragar (@shay_ragar) March 6, 2023
I first met Chuck as a 19yo covering the state legislature. He stopped writing a story to say hello and introduce me to the other reporters in the basement closet used as a press room. He was always generous, kind and fair, celebrating everyone’s wins. https://t.co/gYUe99ajtX— Jayme Fraser (@JaymeKFraser) March 6, 2023
In 2017 I showed up in Helena, mid-session, to cover the Legislature for the Daily Inter Lake. I was self-consciously green, knew almost no one & felt hopelessly lost. Chuck was so generous with his time and his bottomless knowledge, I can’t express how lucky I was to know him. https://t.co/oyISgwAb82— Sam Wilson (@samalwilson) March 6, 2023
When @IR_PhilDrake and I worked together at the Tribune, he invited me to breakfast with some of his friends, which included Chuck Johnson. I was so nervous to meet him, being so new to my job and professional journalism. https://t.co/D1UCoUjWA7— Skylar Rispens (@skylar_rispens) March 6, 2023
If heaven has a legislature, Chuck already is walking its halls. Huge loss for Montana. RIP, my friend. https://t.co/YBjCM473wp— jimstrauss (@straussjamesv) March 6, 2023
For decades, Chuck Johnson was a giant in Montana political journalism. His reliable coverage of issues important to Montanans will be missed in every corner of our state. Cindy and I are thinking of Chuck’s family and all who knew him.https://t.co/HAHdOMzOkT— Steve Daines (@SteveDaines) March 6, 2023
Charles “Chuck” Johnson, a long-time Montana journalist and legend, died over the weekend. He mentored so many student journalists and was one, himself, at the Montana Kaimin in the late ‘60s. He worked as sports editor and managing editor. He will be missed. https://t.co/4BzuEuGl5l pic.twitter.com/T7EUgjzMyT— Montana Kaimin (@MontanaKaimin) March 6, 2023
A huge loss for Montana. https://t.co/aaDM52TlCI— Jon Stepanek (@jonstepanek) March 6, 2023
3 That the very best of journalism isn’t only found in the truth that’s uncovered, but in the humanity that’s revealed. You’ll be so deeply missed, Chuck Johnson. pic.twitter.com/X7spEV8Efg— Emilie Ritter (@EmilieRRitter) March 6, 2023
For 45 years, Montanans trusted Chuck Johnson to keep them informed on our state government. I always enjoyed conversations with Chuck at the statehouse — his commitment to truth and transparency will be greatly missed.https://t.co/zVS8D6n29W— Matt Rosendale (@RepRosendale) March 6, 2023