As a sports reporter at the Montana Kaimin, Sojin Josephson was used to fast turnover between stories. But when ESPN reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg joined the School of Journalism’s faculty as the fall 2015 Pollner professor, Josephson seized the opportunity to tell the stories that shaped some of UM’s star athletes, both in and out of the sports arena.
Josephson’s feature story, “Finding Feller: A family on and off the court,” delved into the life of McCalle Feller, a senior player for Lady Griz. What interested Josephson most about Feller was not her impressive career stats, but the fact that Feller was adopted and had been trying to connect with her birth parents while at college. To understand her family’s history, Josephson interviewed Feller and her adoptive parents together.
“Between the three of them, they were just piecing together their story as it went along, and a lot of their story happened pre-Calle. She didn’t know a lot of that before, so that was pretty cool,” Josephson said. “If I hadn’t sat down with all three of them at the same time, I’m not sure how much of that would’ve come together.”
She paid careful attention to the dialogue and followed up the formal interview with detailed questions to help her recreate the scenes on paper. Josephson also managed to get in touch with Feller’s birth-father over the phone, adding his perspective to the story. After publishing the piece in the Kaimin in February, the story went on to win second place in the Hearst Awards personality/profile category, granting Josephson a $2,000 scholarship and national recognition.
“I have an unholy love for that story. That story seemed to take everything she’s learned from all her profs and from her peers at the Kaimin, and be the embodiment of what a feature’s supposed to do: make you feel something, make you care,” said professor Jule Banville, who helped edit the piece. “There’s a lot in there that no one can teach. It’s pure talent. And I’m pretty psyched the judges at Hearst recognized it.”
Josephson published another feature-length story in a Game Day edition of the Kaimin last November, called, “Kicking and breathing: Daniel Sullivan’s body quit football, but Sullivan couldn’t quit the game.” A talented kicker, Daniel Sullivan’s relationship with football changed after he suffered a stroke. While other media outlets had picked up on the story of Sullivan’s road to recovery, Josephson noticed gaps and became determined to get the full story from Sullivan.
“I feel like it’s a two-way street with all these long-from pieces, because if they’re not available to talk about the details or clarify the answers to your questions, you’re kind of limited to the story you can tell,” said Josephson. “The Sullivan story and the Calle story were by far my favorites from the entire year. They’re the stories that I was excited about telling, and I got so invested in the people and the stories themselves.”
This spring, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) recognized the Sullivan story, and Josephson received first place in the sports reporting category. The SPJ Mark of Excellence awards also highlighted two of her broadcast pieces from UM News in the television reporting categories: “One-button video studio” and “Veteran dogs work with campus police.”
Professor Ray Fanning, who co-taught UM News, said, “She does a great job at personalizing the news, and she knows how to find a fun and interesting way to explain stories that could’ve become very complicated.”
Josephson’s genuine care for her characters came across even more as she made the switch from daily news reporting to documentary-making. This spring she worked as a reporter for the Student Documentary Unit, which tackled the topic of autism care in Montana. After spending days filming the documentary’s lead family, Josephson continued to stay in touch with them on a daily basis. She said, “You just fall in love with them and really want to make sure that you do their story justice.”
However, Josephson credits the power of the journalism community at UM for its support, whether they’re reporting from the field or spending late nights editing on campus.
“Honestly, the J-school’s been the best part of my whole entire life. I just never imagined loving it so much,” said Josephson. “The professors are the best people I know, and the critical thinking skills and the communication skills and the writing skills—this school teaches you everything to be successful in life.”
Josephson graduated on Saturday, May 14th with high honors and the Outstanding Senior Award in print journalism. She plans to spend a little bit of time at home in Big Timber, Montana, before moving to New York City. This summer she will attend the Summer Publishing Institute at NYU, giving her a professional boost to pursue her interests in the magazine world.
While the J-school community wishes Josephson luck, she’ll certainly be missed in her absence.
“She’s a great journalist, and she’s also a dreamy student to have in class, and just a thoughtful human being to have in your life,” said Banville. “Can we clone her?”
Check out Sojin Josephson’s latest feature-length project with the Student Documentary Unit’s show, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” on MontanaPBS online.
By Jana Wiegand