Q&A With Lauren Heiser, ’19: ‘You are Learning Much, Much More Than Just How to Report the News’

Lauren Heiser graduated from the J-School in May 2019 with her BA in Journalism. In 2017, while still in school she started working for KPAX-TV, a local news station covering the Missoula area and Western Montana. She started as a production assistant and has worked her way up to news anchor, associate producer and reporter for Montana This Morning.

She chatted with graduate student Sierra Cistone and an edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Sierra Cistone: What does an average day on the job look like for you?

That’s tough because it depends on what job I’m doing. So, if I’m producing my show, I’ll get up at 1 a.m. and I’ll clock in and I’ll start pulling content from the different reporters and stations from across the state of Montana. … If I am not producing, then I get up a little bit later and I go into the station and I start editing copy.

What experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for the work you do now?

Well there was a lot. I can’t express quite how important the early entry level classes are. A lot of people, they look at those classes and they think, ‘I just have to get through these to get to the more entertaining classes.’ But I still refer back to things that Dennis Swibold told me in my Journalism 100 or in my Ethics and Trends or in any of those 100-200 level classes. You refer back to that information so much throughout your career because it stays true no matter what level you’re reporting at.

What tips do you have for seniors graduating with their BA in Journalism now?

I’ll start by saying that if you can start working in journalism before you graduate, whether that’s an internship or a part-time job, no matter what it is, try and do it before you graduate. But if you’re waiting until after you graduate, I would say take whatever job lands at your feet first. It doesn’t matter if you’re running coffee or if you’re making copies. Just take whatever job they offer you because a foot in the door is a foot in the door.

What tips do you have for incoming students?

I’d say just get to know your professors immediately because you’re going to have a lot of the same ones … Especially if you pick something that you’ve decided to specialize in, you’re going to see the same people over and over again so get to know them. That is something that I always wished I would have done more of, is get to know your professors.

What would you say for anyone considering pursuing journalism at UM?

I would say do it. … If you decided to get a degree in journalism at the University of Montana you are learning much, much more than just how to report the news. You are learning communication skills that you will take with you for the rest of your life and that will be useful in whatever field you ultimately end up in. … And I feel like when people go into college they get scared that they are going to get stuck in whatever field they choose because if you’re not 100% certain you want to have lots of options, … but if you did decide that it ultimately was not the right thing it still opens doors for you into other fields. 

University of Montana School of Journalism Honors State’s Top High School Journalists

More than 60 students and teams at 19 high schools across the state, from Libby to Malta, from Florence to Jordan, have earned top honors from the University of Montana School of Journalism for writing and reporting, photography, videography, graphic design and online storytelling.

The School of Journalism announced the winners of the annual Montana High School Journalism Awards June 9, celebrating the state’s top high school journalists for their outstanding coverage this year of topics ranging from new lunchrooms to the pandemic response.

Grace Carr. Courtesy photo.

The Montana Journalism Education Association also named Grace Carr of Great Falls as this year’s High School Journalist of the Year. Grace is a graduate of C.M. Russell High School and will be starting at the University of Montana School of Journalism in the fall.

Grace was a part of the journalism program at CMR all four years and worked as the editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, the Stampede, her junior and senior years. She says one of the highlights of her high school journalism career was reporting on teen pregnancy in Great Falls. In addition to her work in Beth Britton’s journalism program at CMR, Carr also wrote for the Great Falls Tribune as part of the paper’s teen panel.

“I have always enjoyed writing and it gives me the opportunity to effectively share well-researched information with the community,” Grace writes. “I’ve always been a quiet person and enjoy listening to others’ stories so journalism gives me the ability to share these amazing and differing perspectives with others.”

Carr says she is eager to try new ways of telling stories at the J-School and is looking forward to meeting new people and collaborating with other journalists and storytellers.

In the Montana High School Journalism Awards, Carr won second place for both news writing and infographic design and a third-place award for opinion writing.

In the general excellence categories, the staff at the Sun Journal at Big Sky High School in Missoula won the “Newspaper Pacesetter” award for class AA schools and the staff of the Signal Butte at Custer County District High School won in the class A competition. Bigfork High School’s Norse Code won in class B and The Mustang Monthly at Ennis High School won in class C.

In the “Broadcast Pacesetter” category, C.M. Russell High School’s Quinn Soltesz at the Stampede won among class AA schools and the staff at The Norse Code from Bigfork High School won in class B.

The Hellgate Lance at Hellgate High School in Missoula won the AA contest in the “Online Pacesetter” category and The Norse Code at Bigfork High School won among class B schools.

See more first-place winners here:

See the full list of winners here:

Class Category Rank Newspaper/Program School Individual Winner (If applicable)
B Advertising Design First The Florence Chronicle Florence-Carlton High School Josie Miller
A Advertising Design First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Signal Butte Staff
AA Advertising Design First The Stampede C.M. Russell High School Quinn Sotlesz
B Audio First The Mustang Gazette Malta High School Bonnie Jones
AA Audio First The Stampede C.M. Russell High School Quinn Soltesz
AA Broadcast Pacesetter First The Stampede C.M. Russell High School Quinn Soltesz
B Broadcast Pacesetter First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Norse Code Staff
B Editorial Cartooning First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Josephine Howlett
AA Editorial Cartooning First Hawk Talk Bozeman High School Andy Tallman
B Feature Photography First Florence Chronicle Florence-Carlton High School Olivia Berard
A Feature Photography First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Claire Kuchynka
AA Feature Photography First The Stampede CM Russell High School Nancy Beston
C Feature Writing First The Mustang Monthly Ennis High School McKenzie Taylor-Casey
A Feature Writing First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Allie Wagner
AA Feature Writing First Hawk Tawk Bozeman High School Lily Smith
B Feature Writing First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Josephine Howlett
A Infographic First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Lindon Starck
AA Infographic First Hawk Tawk Bozeman High School Macy Duncan
B Infographic First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Josephine Howlett
B News Photography First Florence Chronicle Florence-Carlton High School Nick Sanchez
A News Photography First Signal Butte Custer County District High School
AA News Photography First The Stampede CM Russell High School Nancy Beston
C News Writing First The Mustang Monthly Ennis High School Drake Blair
A News Writing First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Kaden Kuchynka
AA News Writing First Hawk Talk Bozeman High School Brooke Bothner
AA News Writing First Hawk Talk Bozeman High School Brooke Bothner
B News Writing First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Ashley Miller
AA Newspaper Design First The Sun Journal Big Sky High School Sun Journal Staff
A Newspaper Design First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Signal Butte Staff
B Newspaper Design First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Norse Code Staff
A Newspaper Pacesetter First Signal Butte Custer County District High School Signal Butte Staff
C Newspaper Pacesetter First The Mustang Monthly Ennis Mustang Monthly Staff
B Newspaper Pacesetter First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Norse Code Staff
AA Newspaper Pacesetter First The Sun Journal Big Sky High School Sun Journal Staff
AA Online Pacesetter First Hellgate Lance Hellgate High School Hellgate Lance Staff
B Online Pacesetter First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Norse Code Staff
AA Opinion Writing First The Sun Journal Big Sky High School Gus Dinsmore
C Opinion Writing First Reed Point Review Reed Point High School Cole Bare
A Opinion Writing First Libby Logger Libby High School Suvari Neff
B Opinion Writing First The Florence Chronicle Florence-Carlton High School Josie Miller
AA Photo Illustration First Hawk Tawk Bozeman High School Andy Tallman, Kelly Coyne, Macy Duncan, and Braelyn Hamilton
B Photo Illustration First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Scout Nadeau
A Sports Event Writing First Libby Logger Libby High School Syd Gier & McKenzie Proffitt
C Sports Event Writing First The Mustang Monthly Ennis High School Avery Oliver
AA Sports Event Writing First Hawk Tawk Bozeman High School Adele Gammill
B Sports Event Writing First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Addison Reichner
A Sports Feature Writing First Libby Logger Libby High School Bethany Thomas
C Sports Feature Writing First The Mustang Monthly Ennis High School Avery Oliver
AA Sports Feature Writing First Hawk Tawk Bozeman High School Jonas Cawley
A Sports Photography First Signal Butte Custer Country District High School Kaden Kuchynka
B Sports Photography First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Elizabeth Hyde
AA Sports Photography First The Sun Journal Big Sky High School Maddie Crandall
B Video: Arts & Entertainment First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Scout Nadeau
B Video: General Assignment News First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Maya Hartig
B Video: PSA First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Addison Reichner
B Video: Sports First The Norse Code Bigfork High School Ryder Nollan

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 top honors in the NATAS Student Production Awards at the 57th Annual Northwest Regional Emmy Awards ceremony in June. The awards recognize outstanding achievement in video production. The UM News team won for Best Newscast, Tessa Nadeau won for Best General TV Reporting, and the producers of the “Trash Talk” student documentary won for Best Long-Form Non-Fiction.

Overall, University of Montana students 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