ST. GEORGE — With nearly 5,000 published articles and over 20 million views across his stories, St. George News Senior Reporter Mori Kessler is very likely your No. 1 source for local news.

Kessler was born in American Fork in northern Utah and spent much of his time growing up at his parents’ video store in Alpine called Sunrise Family Video. There, he would watch VHS tapes of the action-packed show “Robotech,” a science fiction robot-themed serial from Japan.

Kessler, now 42, was just a kid in the 1980s, but those old videos spawned a keen interest in unique storytelling.

“‘Robotech’ did something American cartoons never did and that was kill people off,” he said. “That was awesome.”

His parents sold the video store and settled in St. George in 1996.

Mori Kessler has worked for St. George News for 13 years in St. George, Utah. Photo date not specified | Photo courtesy of Canyon Media, St. George News

Kessler enjoys immersing himself in stories on TV and in games but did not immediately pursue journalism. Instead, he opted to enter an apprenticeship as an electrician, a job he held down for many years.

During the 2009 financial crisis, he was let go, but Kessler landed on his feet. A month after being laid off, he began working in the news industry.

“I started freelancing for a weekly paper called Today in Dixie,” he said. “That went well for a while until the publisher gave up on it.”

Kessler saw the writing on the wall and took his talents to a newly-created online news source, Dixie Press Online.

“That name lasted for about a month,” he said. “Then it became St. George News.”

His first story for St. George News was about a car crash, a specialty that Kessler said helped the news outlet become recognized as a prominent news source.

“Oh my gosh, all the accidents” he said. “But when people had questions about traffic problems, they could go to St. George News and find out what happened.”

St. George News is a Canyon Media company based in St. George, Utah. Photo date not specified | Photo courtesy Canyon Media, St. George News

Although the publication went by St. George News, Kessler said it only became recognizable in its current form around 2013.

Kessler has been a prominent figure for two of the newsroom’s other veteran writers, Alexa Morgan and Cody Blowers.

Blowers recalled a time when Kessler was instrumental to her success as a breaking news journalist. He took her out to cover a plane crash.

“It was my third day on the job,” Blowers said.

Morgan said the newsroom was always full of talent, but “Mori has always been the shining star” in her eyes.

Kessler is quick to praise people who know their stuff.

“Alexa is one of our best writers,” Kessler said. “And Cody is the best crime reporter around.”

Today, Kessler is a 13-year veteran of St. George News and can look back at his career and recall both difficulties and successes.

L-R: Senior Reporter Mori Kessler on assignment with cameraman Austin Peck in St. George, Utah, circa 2017 | Photo courtesy of Mori Kessler, St. George News

Kessler said some stories have shaken him up, like a headliner court case and some major car crashes.

He points to one of these tough stories, a double murder case in 2010 that deeply affected him.

“When the later-convicted murderer walked into the courtroom for his federal case, the air was heavy,” he said. “People may experience true evil only a few times in their lives. This was one of them. That one left a storm cloud over me for a few months.”

He said he hasn’t covered a court case since then.

But seeing the victims of a severe car crash also leaves a lasting image, he said.

“Sometimes they are bleeding out,” Kessler said. “And I’ve never quite got used to seeing body bags.”

It’s easier to remember negative events more than the fun stories, for example, Santa Claus coming to town, he said.

One uplifting story he tells is of the homeless shelter called Switchpoint Community Resource Center. In a job where the bad sometimes outweighs the good, the nonprofit organization shares inspirational stories on a regular basis.

“It is a place where people who need to get back on their feet get services such as new IDs,” he said. “Everything they needed was under one roof.”

2020 arrived and scared off the shelter’s largely volunteer-based workforce.

During worship services at the St. George Orthodox Church in St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2021 | Photo courtesy of David Bartosiewicz, St. George News

“Most of the volunteers were people who were 65 and older. COVID-19 was seen as especially affecting the elderly,” he said. “My report of Switchpoint showed they were down 90 volunteers.”

Kessler’s article about the struggling shelter gave it the exposure it needed to attract more help. In the month following its publication, 100 community members volunteered.

His stories have helped St. George’s businesses flourish, so it’s no wonder he is an award-winning reporter.

He has taken home several awards from the Top of the Rockies Excellence in Journalism competition, including one for a story about a new Orthodox Christian church opening in St. George.

Winning awards feels good, he said, but being exposed to so many different communities and their struggles and successes is what really changed him. Kessler is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When he was writing that award-winning story, he said he learned that he didn’t appreciate other faiths enough.

“This job has helped me be open to different cultures and beliefs,” he said.

Kessler hosts a live stream of 2018’s midterm elections coverage date and location not specified | Photo courtesy Mori Kessler,
St. George News

One of his beliefs is that despite his seniority, awards and skill, he doesn’t want to be an editor at St. George News. He wants to stay as far away from that as possible.

“To paraphrase a comedian from the 1980s: I’ve seen the editor’s job, and I don’t want it,” Kessler said. “I like being one of the people involved behind the scenes. Besides, the last few years have been great under Joseph Witham, our editor-in-chief.”

The St. George News editors credit Kessler with being a guiding figure when they were hired.

“Mori was one of the first people to take me under his wing when I started as a reporter in 2016,” Witham said. “I learned a lot from him, even if he was a bit sarcastic about everything.”

Aspen Stoddard, managing editor, recalls Mori’s prominence when she started at St. George News as a reporter.

File photo of St. George officers responding to a scene in St. George, Utah, Dec. 18, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“It was Mori’s quick-witted humor that made me feel welcome,” Stoddard said. “He was one of the first reporters I met and one of my earliest sources of inspiration. He had a long list of well-established relationships.”

Coworkers say they enjoy Kessler’s unique brand of humor and that recognition extends beyond his colleagues and into the community.

Kessler said he is flattered that people recognize him from time to time.

“I have no clue who they are,” Kessler said. “It still amazes me that there are a lot of people out there that know who I am.”

Or it could be his notoriety has nothing to do with St. George News and everything to do with his antics at the annual polar plunge.

“Three years in a row, the St. George Police Department joined with the Special Olympics to do a Polar Plunge at the pool,” he said. “It was January.”

Mori Kessler performs the majestic hydro-faceplant technique during the annual Polar Plunge in St. George, Utah, Feb. 21, 2015 | Photo courtesy of an innocent bystander using Mori Kessler’s phone, St. George News

He said he once wore a costume that he picked up at an anime convention.

“Another year, I dressed in a trench coat,” he said. “To top it off, I do the best belly flop I can.”

Kessler’s usual activities outside of work are not as dramatic.

He describes himself as a major nerd, into “Robotech,” “World of Warcraft,” “Batman” and “Green Lantern.”

“After work, I enjoy playing games,” he said. “But it can be a major time sink if you’re not paying attention.”

Kessler says there are a lot of things that drive him to play video games.

“I find the most important is the storytelling behind everything,” he says.

Like many writers, Kessler has written personal work outside St. George News.

“In my experience, you will never run into a reporter or someone involved in print media who does not have an idea for a book,” he said.

Reporters intentionally avoid editorializing or inserting their perspectives into their articles. Still, the job does allow you to meet all sorts of characters that would be great material for a book, he said.

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker speaks at the groundbreaking at Station 1 in St. George, Utah, Feb. 12, 2024 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“I find a lot of the stuff I’ve come across through this job could be good subject matter,” he said. “Interactions I’ve had could help me write more realistically in my stories.”

In addition to writing characters, he says that getting out and speaking to community members has changed his perspective on life.

“I had a very narrow view of politics and religion,” he said. “I’ve learned that just because they have a certain letter after their name politically, it doesn’t mean that that person isn’t worth getting to know or being a friend to.”

Kessler’s career has given him new perspectives on life, but his dedication to news writing hasn’t changed a bit.

“I have the best job I’ve ever had for the best company I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “I don’t think you can find a company whose support has been as good as this one.”

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