By Kathleen Shannon
Learn about the TV/video/film track at the J-School from sophomore Meghan Fatouros, who moved to Missoula from Bozeman for school. She got hooked on broadcast TV when she started anchoring the PBS News Brief. Meghan has spent time behind the camera, too. She hit her creative stride filming a mini documentary about horses on Montana ranches.
Meghan sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about her time at the J-School. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: So you’re in the broadcast TV track?
A: I’m kind of trying to focus in broadcast however, I’m willing to do whatever just because there’s so much to do. I’m just in my second year, which I think is fun, because I’m kind of right in that middle where there’s so many pathways and opportunities, but I don’t have to be stuck to anything. When I got into the PBS News Brief [class], I was like: ‘this is really awesome. I kind of want to stick with this.’ So I’m just looking to see where it goes.
Q: Did you have a medium in mind when you first got to the J-School?
A: Writing. 100%. But writing can really just adjust itself wherever it’s needed in journalism. And when I took all these classes here, I didn’t realize how much applied [to] writing, but then so many other media as well. And then broadcast writing really stood out to me too, especially with the PBS News Brief because we [the anchors] have to write our own scripts and then have someone look over them. But we’re mainly our own producers, which is really fun.
Q: What’s the premise of the PBS News Brief class?
A: The PBS News Brief, run by [Professor] Denise Dowling, is an opportunity for J-Schoolers to produce a weekly news brief, which is essentially two 30-second clips giving an overrun of the news of the day. So it’s mainly Montana-based, nothing too regional, but for all of Montana. And then its aired that night at a random time, which is always fun, because you kind of have to watch the TV and then: ‘Oh, here I am after the commercial break.’
Q: What about this class got you hooked on broadcast?
A: So, I kind of lucked out. Denise Dowling is my advisor. And I decided to do an in-person meeting because I’d never met her face-to face-because I entered college during COVID. So I felt like I got to actually talk about more of what I wanted to venture into. And she said, ‘you have to do this. This is a great opportunity.’ And I was nervous because I felt like a fish out of water. I didn’t really know anything. But so doesn’t everyone else? Because we’re all learning. At first, it was really daunting until I actually did it. [Then it was:] ‘Oh, gosh, this is fun. I like this.’
Q: How does it feel to be in front of the camera now versus when you first started the news briefs?
A: I did theater in high school. I was a big theatrical kid. And then I ventured a little bit into film acting. So I was always [pretty] comfortable speaking in front of audiences and, of course, being on stage. But one thing that was extremely different for me is I kept, like, projecting my words. So I was speaking so loud, you know, I was hooked up to a mic. And they’re like: ‘this isn’t the theater.’ And a lot of the times, it’s just getting more comfortable. Sometimes I would mess up words, but everyone’s just so willing to work with you on things and do multiple takes. Because there will be days when I cannot say one simple word for the life of me. So it took some time, but I’m getting more comfortable now and I’m happy I get to come back next semester [and] do PBS News Brief for two semesters, so I get even more time with it.
Q: What are the best parts and the most challenging parts of the broadcast track in general?
A: I think it’s just you don’t know what kind of opportunities are going to hit you. Those are the best parts. We’re in Montana. And I always wanted to go to school out of state, which was a horrible idea for me, especially with COVID. I was bummed, because I didn’t think there was going to be a lot of opportunities in Montana. And it feels so lame to say that now [because] there’s so many opportunities [here]. I really liked [the J-School internship fair] when everyone got to interview with different journalism networks across the state. I got some great interviews out of that and got so many connections. There’s just crazy amount of connections. I want to go abroad. And Denise was mentioning connections in other countries. And I’m like: ‘how do you really know these people? How does this even work?’ But it really is such a small world. And I think the J-School encapsulates that perfectly.
Q: Where do you want to study abroad?
A: I want to go to Spain and I’m doing the GLI certificate program [through the] Franke Global Leadership Initiative. And it’s essentially just global leadership [through] communicative learning. My roommate my freshman year was from Spain, and I learned so much from her and I just really appreciate the area from everything she told me.
Q: I know you’re a few years away from graduation. But at this point, what’s your dream job after graduation?
A: Okay. I am such a strategic planner. So right after graduation, I’m going to start off smaller and I want to do more local and I’m probably going to stick in Montana and build my way from there. But I have a dream job of being on “Good Morning America” and just waking up the world.
Q: Are there certain topics or projects that you hope to focus on in the future?
A: It’s always kind of whatever comes my way. That’s just the type of person that I am. So if something arises and I’m like: ‘I have to jump on this,’ I will. I’ve been really following closely with the Native News project. And I love what those students have been doing. And it’s cool watching the work that everyone puts in here.
Q: Are there other classes you definitely want to take before you graduate?
A: Maybe a little bit more photography. I never pictured myself enjoying it until I took the intermediate class that I had to take. But it didn’t feel like a requirement. It was more fun. And it was great going out into the community and just taking photos of really anything. Yeah, so it’s definitely a medium I did not expect to enjoy. And then we got to do video in that as well, which I really enjoyed because then I got to put some creative twists on it, especially since I want to be more of a multimedia journalist.
Q: So you’ve had classes where you’re in front of the camera and others where you’re behind it. Can you talk about how it feels to be on either side?
A: I think I’m harder on myself when I’m in front of the camera. But everyone’s their own worst critic, especially when something’s right on you. But I got to be a little bit more relaxed behind it. And I was shooting with a dear friend of mine on Montana ranches and horses, which was really fun. So I got to do a mini documentary on that. And it felt like a grand adventure. When I am in front of the camera, it’s its own little spotlight, in itself. But it’s definitely not as relaxing. It’s more just like: ‘Okay, we have to do this. We have 30 seconds to do it. Let’s go.’ But when I was out there on the ranch with my friend, it was more like: ‘well, let’s just shoot all day, eat some lunch and hang out.’ It was a good time.
Q: Talk more about that mini documentary.
A: It involved so many aspects of what I liked, and [I enjoyed] the creative freedom of it. And that’s what I love about the J-School is there so much creative freedom. It’s not one of these things where: ‘here’s the rubric, here’s the themes I’m looking for.’ It’s like: ‘what are you passionate about? Go out there and do it. Learn by doing.’
And another class I really enjoyed is writing. It’s something that is just so fun for me, especially fiction writing but also, of course, journalistic writing. I really loved feature writing with [Professor] Jule [Banville] and it was such a great experience because we were quite literally getting out of our comfort zones. And we got to write obituaries in her class and they were on people in the community and we had zero idea who these people were. And we had to reach out to them, which is something that’s extremely heavy. But at the same time, it had this bitter sweetness to it, that we got to share these people’s stories, even though they were just strangers to us days before. So that was exciting, too.
Q: Talk more about writing obituaries.
A: That’s the thing, too, with journalism: it’s always changing things. So originally, I found a really good story. And it was the oldest barber in Missoula. And it was running since the ‘30s. One of the original sons, I believe, passed. And the family still has the barber shop and I went in to go speak with them. And they were willing at first. They had to think on it for a bit. But I really fell in love with what I did find, because there were already some stories on the barber shop from years earlier. And I already fell in love with their story in general because it was a family of immigrants who moved here and they just built this from the ground up. And when I got the call that they weren’t willing to do it, because it was too hard—which, of course, you’re dealing with loss, it’s heavy—at first, I was so scared of being rejected. And it was like: ‘What am I doing wrong?’ But at the same time, it has nothing to do with me. And we have to put ourselves in perspective sometimes. So when I did initially get that rejection, I was a little bit down. But I was like: ‘I really hope that they heal as much as they can.’ Because that’s really all you can do. So then I went on the hunt for another story and I found the most random connection. And it was my roommate’s cousin’s grandpa. I reached out to this family that didn’t even live here. I did Zoom calls [with] this family in Idaho. And the couple was married for 75 years and they had their own painting business. And he passed. And so it was basically just storytelling from the wife. And at first I was really nervous [approaching as] a stranger. But having been rejected from the first one, I’m like: ‘what’s the worst that’s gonna happen?’ So I did end up getting a really great story that I could really get involved with.
Q: I think it’s a good lesson to learn early that rejection isn’t necessarily about you. And then, what piece of advice would you give to an incoming student who’s surveying the different tracks?
A: Oh, just when I think about myself, especially during COVID, it was such a weird time and I changed my plans so much. So probably, don’t be afraid to change and [change] is always going to be coming your way. Life is done through such a zigzag pattern. And the journalism school will [support] you. You don’t have to fit this certain mold.