Montana Kaimin Editors Explore Data Journalism In Denver

Montana native, Kayla Robertson, originally wanted to go out of state for college, but her tour of the UM J-school with Denise Dowling helped change her mind. “Denise showed me the Kaimin office, and I thought, I need to work here,” Robertson said.

True to word, Robertson has since become the Montana Kaimin’s design editor and has shifted her attention from print to web design. Robertson and fellow Kaimin colleague, Peregrine Frissell, recently attended a data journalism conference in Denver, Colorado to learn more about this subset of reporting.

head shots of Robertson and Frissell

The Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) sponsors a program called the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR). These two organizations share the mission of fostering excellence in journalism, and NICAR specifically focuses on data journalism by making government datasets available to journalists and holding annual conferences that support their community of reporters.

In order to attend the 2016 conference, Frissell and Robertson needed funding, so they pitched their joint goals to the Dean of the School of Journalism and to the Provost. Robertson felt confident about their pitch because of Frissell’s experience as a hard news reporter and her own specialization on interactive graphics.

“Kayla and Peregrine have taken the initiative to build their skills in the area of data analysis and visualization, key areas for future students,” Dean Larry Abramson said. “These students serve as role models for others, and they help steer our curriculum in the right direction. I was glad to be able to back their research trip, thanks to the generous support of our donors.”

Faculty advisor of the Kaimin, Nadia White, said she’s glad Frissell and Robertson were able to attend the conference. “They learned the most important thing we can teach,” she said. “You have to learn how to learn and to seek what you want to know.”

For Robertson, learning the technical skills proved to be most valuable. Programs like JavaScript, which helps visualize data and makes things “look pretty” on a website, connected all of her interests as both a writer and a designer. At the conference, Robertson said, “I learned a ton of hard news skills, and now I can go in any direction I want from here.”

As the Kaimin’s web editor, Frissell preferred database management to design. “The conference better equipped me to work in a newsroom and understand the work that goes into creating these pieces,” he said. “There are people out there that dedicate their lives to doing this.”

Since Robertson and Frissell were some of the only college students attending the IRE conference, they used that opportunity to network with representatives of major media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Buzzfeed.

Frissell graduates in May, but Robertson still has another year to finish her journalism degree. This summer she will participate in the Missoula-to-Berlin international reporting trip, and she hopes to produce some maps and infographics along with the written stories.

However, Robertson’s already started to use the skills she picked up at the IRE conference for her work at the Kaimin. She developed interactive graphics for the current edition’s feature story, “The Ides of April,” by Hunter Pauli, and with help from Niklaas Dumroese.

As the Kaimin puts more effort into its online stories, Robertson will shift more attention from print to online design. “We can do some cool stuff,” Robertson said. “It’s the same great journalism, but we’re making it available to more people.”

Follow the latest news with Peregrine Frissell on Twitter, and stay up to date with Kayla Robertson’s design projects on her website.

By Jana Wiegand

J-School Student Awarded Study Abroad Fellowship

Autumn Barnes-Fraser traveled to Germany for the first time between high school graduation and University of Montana orientation. Despite the nearly 5,000 miles between her hometown of Helena, MT and Berlin, Germany, “As soon as I hit the tarmac, I knew I had found home,” she said.

photo of Autumn Barnes-Fraser

Now Barnes-Fraser will be going back to Germany two more times, as part of the Missoula-to-Berlin International Reporting course at the J-school and for the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange (CBYX) program for young professionals. The CBYX program is a public diplomacy fellowship funded by the U.S. Congress and the German Bundestag and covers most of the participants’ expenses.

Barnes-Fraser found out she won the CBYX fellowship on March 7th, 2015, about a year after submitting her written application and successfully passing the interview process. The notification left her both ecstatic and dumbfounded. “I get to live in a culture that I love so much, and in a country that I feel so close to,” Barnes-Fraser said.

“Only 75 people across the US get this thing—that’s a big deal,” Associate Professor Henriette Lowisch said. “Passion and dedication are really a thing, they will get you where you most want to go. Autumn has just given us proof of that by winning this very competitive fellowship.”

Lowisch has worked with Barnes-Fraser as part of the Missoula-to-Berlin reporting project. The project’s goal is to document Germany’s response to the refugee crisis while teaching students journalism skills for reporting abroad, in a breaking-news setting. In the fall, students focused on fundraising efforts for the trip, but now they’ve started pitching story ideas.

“Autumn is one of the leaders of our Missoula-to-Berlin reporting project,” Lowisch said. “She’s put in an amazing amount of time and energy, not only for her own sake, but to make the entire team succeed.”

Dean of the UM School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, who is co-leading the trip, agreed with Lowisch.

“Autumn has a special link to Germany, and her passion for our trip to Berlin is evident in her class participation,” Abramson said. “It’s great to see her developing that passion through this trip, and I have no doubt that her coverage of the refugee crisis will be unique.”

Barnes-Fraser said the diversity of students in the class enhanced how they researched and reported their story ideas. While her double major is in Broadcast Journalism and German, others students have majors in Economics, Political Science and Business. “We all have different interests and different experience levels, so I think we’ll work really well together as a team,” she said.

A month after Barnes-Fraser returns to the States after the Missoula-to-Berlin trip, she will leave for the year-long CBYX program, which is divided into three parts: language immersion, semester studies and a five-month internship. She hopes to focus both the studies and internship on radio journalism. Both NPR Berlin and Deutsche Welle radio stations would offer her the opportunity to report in German, then produce pieces in English.

“I like the local perspective,” she said.

Based on her experience, Barnes-Fraser said locals are usually more willing to talk with foreign reporters who make the effort to communicate in their native tongue. Personally, her favorite journalism pieces relate to human features and long narratives.

Despite the fact that she won’t know where she will be interning until a few weeks before the CBYX trip starts, “I’m excited because of the flexibility and not knowing exactly what will happen.”

Stay up to date with the latest Missoula-to-Berlin news via their Facebook page.

By Jana Wiegand

Into The Newsroom: Two J-School Juniors Win NATAS Scholarships

One day in JRNL 100, Mason Birgenheier stood in front of the class and announced that KPAX-TV was looking for production help. He had been working afternoon shifts at the station, serving as a production assistant, when Ethaniel Fitzgerald heard his announcement. Fitzgerald soon landed a position at KPAX, helping manage and produce The Morning Show, clocking in at 3am and then leaving straight from work to go to class.

NATASNow, three years later, both Birgenheier and Fitzgerald have won NATAS scholarships for their dedication to the broadcast industry.

The goal of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) scholarship program is to support promising students in their pursuits in the television field of journalism. As part of the award, winners travel to Seattle, Washington in June for further recognition and to go behind the scenes in a larger newsroom.

The UM School of Journalism has a long history of broadcast majors receiving NATAS scholarships. Of this year’s winners, Ray Ekness, Professor & Director of Student Success, said, “Both Ethan and Mason are exactly what the NATAS folks are looking for. They’re smart, take feedback well, are willing to learn and have been working hard at local television stations.”

Ethaniel Fitzgerald delivers the news with fellow reporters for NBC Montana.
Ethaniel Fitzgerald delivers the news with fellow reporters for NBC Montana.

Currently, Birgenheier and Fitzgerald work for KECI-TV, a local subset of NBC. Birgenheier mostly focuses on the production side and said that the team’s atmosphere revolved around the word ‘hustle.’ “It’s so fast-paced and you’re constantly on your toes,” he said. “But when something happens, you’re the first ones to know.”

As someone who grew up in Missoula, Birgenheier said that he enjoyed using his technological skills to keep people up to date with the local news. “I like knowing what’s going on in my community,” he said.

While Fitzgerald also has substantial production experience, lately he’s been working as KECI’s weekend sports reporter. He said the position functioned at a different pace than the news, but it was still fun and exciting.

Fitzgerald won NATAS’s specific Tricia Moen Scholarship, which emphasizes the producing and writing aspects of broadcast journalism. This scholarship honors Tricia Moen, a producer at KOMO-TV in Seattle, who continued to work even after being diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer. During the NATAS application process, Fitzgerald researched her story and felt touched by her journey. “I had goosebumps,” Fitzgerald said. “I wanted to be better at my job because of her.”

Yet Fitzgerald’s inspiration at the J-school came from Ekness, who gave him technical advice and pushed him to be a better journalist. “He’ll do anything for his students,” Fitzgerald said.

Birgenheier agreed. “I’m thankful to a lot of people, but especially Ray,” he said. “I owe a huge kudos to him.”

“I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished,” Ekness said. “I’m looking forward to the great things they’ll do in the future.”

For Fitzgerald, the future revolves around finding a news team that works well together. “I like anchoring and being behind the scenes,” he said. “I want to have a lot of skills, and [someday] I’d like to just be able to roll the dice and go there.”

When Birgenheier started at UM, he didn’t see himself as a journalist. “But now that I’ve found it, I know it’s always been a part of me, “ he said. “I hope to anchor someday, and I feel more confident after winning this scholarship. It’s taken a lot of hard work to do this and to feel like someone actually noticed, is awesome.”

As both students head into their senior year, they plan to keep working at KECI and gain as much experience as possible from their jobs and from their classes. In 2016, the UM School of Journalism was ranked top-ten in the nation, and Birgenheier felt obligated to keep that reputation strong.

“We’re pretty good at what we do,” he said. “It’s up to us to carry the torch.”

Missed the 6 o’clock news? Follow Mason Birgenheier on Twitter, Instagram or the Montana Race Project for his contributions to local stories, and follow Ethaniel Fitzgerald on Twitter to catch up with the latest news in Missoula.

By Jana Wiegand