By Erin Sargent
From Missoula to Antarctica and everywhere in between, University of Montana Journalism alumnus Nathan Rott has done it all: firefighting, fishing, working odd jobs across the world and eventually telling stories for National Public Radio as an on-air reporter.
Working for NPR’s National Desk, Rott covers environmental issues and says that he’s also one of the “breaking news guys,” working on stories like the Thousand Oaks shooting and the California wildfires.
He says he first tried his hand at journalism writing for Missoula Sentinel High School’s Konah newspaper. When he arrived at the University of Montana, he wasn’t sure about a journalism major. He thought about exploring theater or forestry, and eventually declared a major in anthropology.
But it was Nadia White’s reporting class that really got him hooked on journalism.
“It was at once the hardest educational experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “But also just so, so awesome.”
That reporting class set the path for the rest of Rott’s college career. He decided on a double major in anthropology and journalism. And his plans after graduation?
“I graduated in winter and I hightailed it to Nicaragua,” he says.
Rott likes to joke that he was a “pretty successful degenerate” for a while. He spent his summers fighting fires and planned to become a city firefighter, writing freelance magazine articles on the side.
And then Rott got some advice from professor Carol Van Valkenburg and took a chance, applying for the Stone and Holt Weeks Fellowship, an opportunity for non-traditional journalists to work with the Washington Post and NPR.
He got the call to interview in Washington, D.C., and immediately asked his mom to send his suit up to him in Kalispell, Montana, on a Greyhound bus.
Rott landed the fellowship and spent six months working in D.C., working for some of the best editors at the Washington Post and NPR. He says he still feels incredibly lucky.
When the fellowship ended, he took a break from journalism. He went to Antarctica for five months. He traveled through the Middle East, he worked seasonally in Alaska as a fisherman, the list goes on.
Through it all, Rott stuck with freelancing and, eventually, it paid off. On a trip to D.C. to edit a story, Rott met up with his former editor at NPR, who offered him a job.
“He basically told me, ‘if you can get to LA in seven days, you’ve got a job for two months,’” Rott says. “I turned a two-month contract into another month contract, and I got another month contract after that.”
Rott strung together month-by-month contracts with NPR for two years and was eventually offered a full-time position as a reporter. And that’s where he’s at now: driving around the country, covering stories about wildfires, grizzly bears and the occasional retiring rodeo bull. He says he owes it all to the UM J-School.
“There are a lot of people like me who came from that school and are proud to be coming from that school,” says Rott. “We are where we are today because of that school.”
Rott is currently covering the ongoing discussion of public support for the Endangered Species Act, specifically how it has been affecting the Yellowstone grizzly population for NPR. His work can be found at npr.org.
This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.