Lauren Heiser graduated from the J-School in May 2019 with her BA in Journalism. In 2017, while still in school she started working for KPAX-TV, a local news station covering the Missoula area and Western Montana. She started as a production assistant and has worked her way up to news anchor, associate producer and reporter for Montana This Morning.

She chatted with graduate student Sierra Cistone and an edited transcript of their conversation is below.

Sierra Cistone: What does an average day on the job look like for you?

That’s tough because it depends on what job I’m doing. So, if I’m producing my show, I’ll get up at 1 a.m. and I’ll clock in and I’ll start pulling content from the different reporters and stations from across the state of Montana. … If I am not producing, then I get up a little bit later and I go into the station and I start editing copy.

What experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for the work you do now?

Well there was a lot. I can’t express quite how important the early entry level classes are. A lot of people, they look at those classes and they think, ‘I just have to get through these to get to the more entertaining classes.’ But I still refer back to things that Dennis Swibold told me in my Journalism 100 or in my Ethics and Trends or in any of those 100-200 level classes. You refer back to that information so much throughout your career because it stays true no matter what level you’re reporting at.

What tips do you have for seniors graduating with their BA in Journalism now?

I’ll start by saying that if you can start working in journalism before you graduate, whether that’s an internship or a part-time job, no matter what it is, try and do it before you graduate. But if you’re waiting until after you graduate, I would say take whatever job lands at your feet first. It doesn’t matter if you’re running coffee or if you’re making copies. Just take whatever job they offer you because a foot in the door is a foot in the door.

What tips do you have for incoming students?

I’d say just get to know your professors immediately because you’re going to have a lot of the same ones … Especially if you pick something that you’ve decided to specialize in, you’re going to see the same people over and over again so get to know them. That is something that I always wished I would have done more of, is get to know your professors.

What would you say for anyone considering pursuing journalism at UM?

I would say do it. … If you decided to get a degree in journalism at the University of Montana you are learning much, much more than just how to report the news. You are learning communication skills that you will take with you for the rest of your life and that will be useful in whatever field you ultimately end up in. … And I feel like when people go into college they get scared that they are going to get stuck in whatever field they choose because if you’re not 100% certain you want to have lots of options, … but if you did decide that it ultimately was not the right thing it still opens doors for you into other fields. 

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