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

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