University of Montana Journalism Students Earn Top National Awards (Again!)

Jiakai (JK) Lou, right, in Helmville, Montana, last winter with Tyrel James Bignell. Courtesy photo.

Once again, University of Montana School of Journalism students showed the country what they can do, winning top prizes in regional and national competitions, including in the national Hearst Journalism Awards Program.

The Hearst Awards, sometimes called the college Pulitzer Prizes, include five writing, one radio, two TV and four multimedia competitions. Students at 104 accredited universities are eligible to compete.

This year, in the 60th annual awards, UM J-School students placed in the top 10 in four categories and in the top 20 in four more competitions.

Overall, the University of Montana is in 4th place for the Intercollegiate Multimedia Competition, which accumulates points from student placements.

Mollie Lemm. Courtesy photo.

Recent graduate JiaKai Lou placed first in multimedia narrative competition for his documentary, “32 Below,” which looks at the hard work and passion of one ranching family as they tend their cows and calves during last year’s frigid winter in Helmville, Montana. The film was also chosen to show at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Another new graduate, Mollie Lemm, placed in 8th place in Multimedia II, Innovative Storytelling and Audience Engagement Competition and Quinn Corcoran placed 16th in Multimedia III – Enterprise Reporting.

In photojournalism, UM junior Sara Diggins won 2nd Place in Photojournalism I – News and Features for her portfolio, which documented a wide range of emotions, from grief to suspense to surprise to humor. And, Trevor Reid placed 20th in the highly competitive Photo Picture Story Competition, for his series of photos about a young high school cycling phenomenon from Missoula who competed and excelled at the National Cyclocross Championships this year. Diggins also had earlier won the Bronze Medal in the College Photographer of the Year contest in the Sports Feature Photography category.

Sara Diggins. Photo by Mollie Lemm.

UM also grabbed a top-10 Hearst win in Radio News and Features with Aidan Morton in 10th place. Becca Olson also placed in the top 20 of that competition.

In the writing category, recent grad Paul Hamby, now at the Missoulian, placed in the top 20 twice, in enterprise reporting and in personality profile writing.

J-Schoolers also cleaned up in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards, with 26 regional winners and 11 regional champions, which advanced to the national competition.

UM J-School claimed two national wins, including Sara Diggins, who won for her Montana Kaimin story “Vapergate” in the Photo Illustration competition. Diggins’ photography documenting the climate strike protest in Missoula was named a regional winner.

The 2019 student documentary unit also was named a national winner for their documentary “Trash talk: Montana’s recycling challenge” in the Television In-Depth Reporting category. You can watch it here on Montana PBS.

Tessa Nadeau. Courtesy photo.

Recent graduate Tessa Nadeau, now working at ABC-Fox Montana, was a national finalist for her piece “Transgender runner, June Eastwood,” which first appeared on the student-produced UM News program.

The 2019 student documentary unit also was named a national winner for their documentary “Trash talk: Montana’s recycling challenge” in the Television In-Depth Reporting category. You can watch it here on Montana PBS.

Paul Hamby earned a regional champion spot in Feature Writing for his piece in the Missoulian, “Lance Cpl. Thomas Parker: Inmate No. 3023132, Bib No. 4109.” And, Hunter Wiggins won in General News Photography for a Veteran’s Day project

In the Online News Reporting category,  Marnie Craig and Luke Nicholson won for their Native News piece, “Missing” and in Online Feature Reporting, Sara Diggns won for “Darkitecture and disorientation” in the Montana Kaimin. In Online In-Depth Reporting, Eli Imadali and Jordynn Paz won for their piece in Native News, “Left Behind.”

Quinn Corcoran won for “Missoula strikes for the climate” in the Online/Digital News Videography category.

Paul Hamby. Courtesy photo.

In the radio competition, UM student Regina Fitzsimmons, won in radio features for her piece, “Falling in love for three minutes: A woman in transition finds her place on the dance floor.” And, Maxine Speier, won in in-depth radio for “To catch a predator fish.”

Several other regional finalists from UM include:

UM J-School students also earned nominations in the NATAS Student Production Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in video production. They were nominated in four categories:

  • Newscast
    • UM News 2019 • University of Montana • David Atkinson, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew • Griffin Rerucha, Producer/Reporter/Anchor • Graham Gardner, Director • Tessa Nadeau, Producer/Reporter/Anchor • Tina Brennan, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew • Sydney Hanson, Director • Briane White, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew
  • Long Form Non-Fiction
    • Trash Talk: Montana’s Recycling Challenge • University of Montana • Quinn Corcoran, Graphics/Reporter/Photographer • Dominik Stallings, Producer • Galen Koon, Producer/Director • Kiana Hohman, Reporter/Photographer • Jenny Gessaman, Narrator • Justin Jackson, Reporter/Photographer • Keith Szudarski, Reporter/Photographer
  • News: General Assignment-Light
    • ROTC Community Service • University of Montana • Tessa Nadeau, Reporter/Writer/Shooter/Editor
  • Sports
    • Transgender Runner • University of Montana • Tessa Nadeau, Reporter/Writer/Shooter/Editor

Ask a Grad: UM Journalism Grad Ric Sanchez on Bringing His Social Media Skills to the Washington Post

While at the University of Montana School of Journalism Ric Sanchez served as editor at the Kaimin, the independent student newspaper, but also had a deep interest in the technology and business of the Web and social media. It was that mix of journalism and technology that helped him land first an internship and later a full-time job at the Washington Post.

Recently, Sanchez took over his alma mater’s Instagram feed to field questions from people about everything from what he does day-to-day to how to land a killer internship.

Here’s what he had to say during a Q&A on Instagram:

What do you do as a Social Media editor?
“Half my day is spent selecting, writing, and scheduling posts for our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the other half of my job is doing project coordination for a lot of our big feature stories around the newsroom.”

What first made you interested in journalism/social media?
“Ah, I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a little kid, my mom worked at a newspaper and it always seemed like a really cool job. As far as social media, I’ve always just been a super online person and I had a lot of good conversations about the Internet with Lee Banville when I was at UM.”

What experience/skills prepared you most for getting this job?
“I had a ton of jobs at the Kaimin, including online editor, but honestly any chance you get to do campus media whether it’s the Kaimin or KBGA or UM News or Native News, take that opportunity because it’s a good way to practice (and practice failing) journalism.”

What’s your advice on landing a killer internship?
“My advice on landing a killer internship would be to start with a couple smaller internships and then build your way up. It’s easier to land an internship at a bigger newsroom like the Post or the Times or the L.A. Times if you have a couple smaller ones under your belt to show that you know how to do the work.”

Leah Sottile on Her Time At the UM J-School: ‘These are the people who will carry us through.’

By Leah Sottile, T. Anthony Pollner Professor, fall 2019

Woman wearing glasses looking at camera. Leah Sottile
Leah Sottile. Courtesy photo.

Montana is a place I am not a stranger to. I spent a lot of my wild, younger nights in the very Missoula watering holes that my journalism students are currently spending their wild, young nights. Funny how, overnight, you transform from young to not-young. Until I got to Missoula, my college days still seemed so close; being here, I realized how very far away they are.

So I didn’t come here thinking about how big the sky would be, how earnest the people, how local the steak. I would not be buying boots. The West is already my home. I came here because I love journalism. It is my breath. I’m one of those people who call it a calling, never a job. I do it because I have to, and I surround myself with people who understand that about me. I came to Montana with a message: you can be weird and maybe a little different, like me, and still be a journalist. For too long, the media has been one kind of voice.

I’m a freelance journalist. So, I don’t have a newsroom. I get more done that way. I can isolate myself with my sources, and my stories, and relatively little else.

You can understand, then, that immersed in the University of Montana’s School of Journalism for the past five months was a complete and total lifestyle change. I found myself surrounded by people — the best people. First, in the jittery pre-semester summer days, I was surrounded by a faculty that devotes themselves to this place, this cause, this craft, to bringing in the next generation of journalists. I don’t know if the students know how lucky they are.

This semester I taught a class of 12 journalism students, showing them the work that inspires me, deconstructing and reconstructing how great stories are made. I told them I’m a student of journalism, too. I hope I always will be. I don’t trust any journalist who isn’t.

And each week I was in the belly of the Montana Kaimin, telling the brave student staff to take risks, swing for the fences, stick up for people and dammit, be yourselves. We traded books. We talked politics. My heart broke when their stories fell apart and they broke down in tears. I could tell them about all the times this job had broken my heart, but I knew they wouldn’t hear it for at least another ten years.

These are the people who will carry us through. I’m sure of it now. When you have been surrounded for months by the constant, caffeinated buzz of twentysomething journalists, you find hope. They smile big. They laugh hard. They fight mercilessly. They work hard. They tell each other — all the time — how much they love each other.

For all this time, I have never been alone, and I have gotten nothing done. Usually, I’d be tearing my hair out over that. But pretty quickly I asked myself: why would I waste this precious time on my own work, when I could have my soul stitched back together again? Being a journalist right now, in a time of fear and broken systems, is difficult and even dangerous. Even the best among us are deemed enemies.

So here in Montana, I haven’t found sky or trees or snow or cows. I have found people: the best people. Young people who have forever changed me, inspired me, shown me that all my assumptions about humanity were wrong. There is good left. There is hope. And I’ll tell you where to find it: it’s on the second floor of Don Anderson Hall. It’s up in Room 301. It’s on the fourth floor faculty offices. And it’s hanging on the walls: framed black and white photos of the journalists this place has produced, the yellowed-front pages those people wrote. This is a school, yes, but it’s also a celebration of everything this country and this profession has endured, just to get to this exact moment in history. If only we would just stop and notice it, I think we might all feel a little restored.

Leah Sottile is a freelance journalist whose features, profiles, investigations and essays have been featured by the Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Playboy, California Sunday Magazine, Outside, The Atlantic, Vice and several others. She is the host and reporter of the National Magazine Award-nominated and Apple Top 10 podcast Bundyville, made in collaboration with Longreads and Oregon Public Broadcasting. She served as the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor in 2019, teaching a course on freelance journalism and storytelling as well as advising the independent newspaper, The Montana Kaimin. The professorship brings professional, cutting-edge journalists into the classrooms of the University of Montana School of Journalism in the memory of J-School graduate T. Anthony Pollner.

The fall Pollner professor gives a public lecture on campus. Watch Sottile’s talk on alternative media, storytelling and her career here:

Stories of the Wild, the Innocent and the Downright Disregarded by Leah Sottile from Montana Journalism on Vimeo.

The program is currently taking applications for the next Pollner professor. Learn more and apply here