February 10th, the Hearst Journalism Awards Program released its top ten winners in the Multimedia One/Features category, ranking Kaci Felstet’s piece “Late Start” 6th in the nation. Felstet produced the multimedia piece last spring as part of the class Native News, co-taught by Assistant Professor Jason Begay and Associate Professor Jeremy Lurgio.

“Late Start” tackles attendance issues at Rocky Boy Elementary School located in the center of the Rocky Boy Reservation in north-central Montana. Originally, Felstet and her reporting partner Courtney Anderson had been researching teacher retention rates, but they realized that the story’s core remained with the students.

Photo shows a darkly shadowed mug of tea sitting on a railing with a bright orange sunset in the distance
Taken during a photo-a-week challenge. By Kaci Felstet.

“Kids weren’t getting the education that they needed,” Felstet said. “And that was something really close to our hearts.”

Begay and Lurgio chose the theme “Relationships” for Native News in spring 2015. They challenged students to find unique, personal bonds that explored “how people on reservations connect with each other,” Begay said.

“It left a lot of room for us to branch out and find our own stories,” Felstet said.

She and Anderson traveled to the Rocky Boy reservation during spring break and spent several days following their characters and gathering classroom footage at the elementary school. Felstet said the kindergarten kids needed some time to get used to the cameras and stop making funny faces at them, but that their patience paid off in the end.

“The hardest thing is that you can’t go back,” Felstet said. “You have to get everything you need in three or four days.”

That was where working as a team came in handy. Despite extensive background research and planning, Felstet and Anderson knew that they need to stay both flexible and focused while in the field, so that they could find the true story even if it was different from the one they had envisioned. Lurgio said, “Kaci was very organized. She knew what she needed and she got enough to be able to adapt.”

Felstet’s first exposure to video came from a summer internship with KRTV in her hometown of Great Falls, Montana, but she considers herself more of a photojournalist these days. She’s currently pursuing a master’s in Economics here at UM, which will not only diversify her education but also open up new doors to her as a journalist, especially regarding business and finance beats, “which not everyone wants to cover,” she laughed.

A self portrait of Felstet clutching a scarf to her face while standing in the snow
Felstet’s self-portrait from her photo-a-week challenge. By Kaci Felstet.

To stay familiar with her camera, Felstet decided to create a photo-a-week challenge for herself to keep her creativity fresh. The recent recognition of “Late Start” serves as another boost from the journalism world.

“Kaci has a great eye for shooting and producing multimedia packages,” Lurgio said. “She works extremely hard, and she was very dedicated to producing a professional caliber story. And that’s just what she did.”

Kaci Felstet and Courtney Anderson’s collaborative piece can be found on the Native News website, which features more stories from reservations in Montana.

By Jana Wiegand

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