Peyton Butler Explores the Airwaves

By Kathleen Shannon

Peyton Butler in the KBGA college radio station.

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Peyton Butler has almost completed the audio track at the J-School. She’ll graduate after completing her Wilderness Studies minor in the field this fall. She was sold on audio after interning for Montana Public Radio, which is housed at UM. She’s also the media director at the university radio station, KBGA, and an intern with a podcast called Stories for Action.

Peyton sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about her diverse experiences in audio. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What got you interested in audio? Why and when did you decide to pick that track?

A: So to be honest, I came to UM not to study journalism. I started my first semester here studying forestry. I switched because in high school, I was the editor of our school newspaper’s audio branch. So I did all the podcasting stuff for my high school’s media network. And I’ve always just kind of liked podcasts. I loved listening to podcasts all through middle school and high school. And I kind of hadn’t thought of it as a career path until my first semester at UM, [when] I got an internship with Montana Public Radio (MTPR). And I wasn’t a journalism major at that point. After I got that internship, I was like: ‘okay, then I guess this is something I’m very passionate about. I could make this into a career if I wanted.’ And so I changed my major to journalism and started on the audio track from there.

Q: Can you talk more about your internship MTPR and how that like helped clarify your path? What kinds of stories did you work on there?

A: I had that internship for technically two school years. I got to do a lot of the evening newscasts and so I got to pull lots of different stories from the from the [Associated Press] wire and record those and then those got aired on MTPR in the evenings. And I got to do some short spot stories as well. The beat that I got to follow a lot was public land and natural resources because my other minor that I’m studying is climate change studies. Environmental reporting is something else I’m really passionate about besides audio. So I did some environmental stories for them, as well. It was a lot of just learning how a newsroom works. During my second school year with MTPR, it was all remote [and] I was working from home. So there wasn’t as much of like the newsroom aspect, I guess. But definitely during my first year, I learned a lot about how a newsroom works and this is how you talk with other reporters there and how you work professional audio equipment and whatnot. So I think it was a big learning experience for me to learn how the news making process goes.

Q: Can you talk a project you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?

A: So this kind of has to do with J-School, but it’s technically for my minor. I’m a podcast editor for this group called Stories for Action. And they’re a production company that works on documentaries and storytelling surrounding climate change in Montana. And so I’ve been helping their lead production person Lara Tomov. I’m doing an internship with her editing her podcast. So I’ve been listening to all the interviews she did last summer and going through and editing those into more [of] a succinct podcast form. And that’s been super interesting because it’s right up my alley. And it follows my interests almost to a T. And I’ve been learning a lot, too, about how to report in the field and how to deal with wind and rain and stuff when you’re trying to report. So that’s something that I’ve been really proud of that I’m working on right now.

Q: That’s exciting. What is your dream job after graduation?

A: I’ve got a couple of dream jobs. There’s a couple different things I would love to do. I’d love to work for either NPR or an NPR affiliate station, doing Morning Edition or [All Things Considered], or just being a general reporter there start to out. I’d love to be an environmental reporter, specifically an audio reporter. Or a reporter who’s able to follow the climate change beat because I think that’s something that’ll keep evolving and changing as the years go on. I would also love to work being a writer for an outdoor recreation magazine. That’s something else I’m really passionate about. And outdoor education is something I love. And so being able to work for, like, Outside magazine or something would be super cool. Or being a writer for Protect Our Winters, which is another group that I really love and support.

Q: In terms of your time doing audio at the University of Montana, what’s been a highlight? And what’s been something more challenging?

A: The best part would probably be my internship I was able to have with MTPR. That was basically doing my dream job my freshman year of college. And I was like 18. So I think that’s been the highlight. I think the hardest part has been I’ve had some difficulties doing some reporting in the past year. And just, like, stories falling through. And working really hard to try to get in contact with people because I want to do this one specific story and just having it not work out. I think that’s been really tough dealing with the fact that there is this super cool story that I really want to write about. And the people who would be involved just aren’t as passionate or aren’t willing to talk with you. So kind of grappling with that feeling of not necessarily disappointment, but just feeling lost, in the moment, and then trying to figure out what my next steps are after that and kind of starting from scratch again.

Q: Is there something you would say you’ve learned from that part of the process?

A: Persistence is key. I mean, not to the point where you’re, like, completely bugging another person. I think setting boundaries with other people is super important, especially as a journalist. But if something doesn’t work out, just keep trying another avenue. Try another angle and see if that’ll help you out.

Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in audio at the J-School?

A: Experience everything else that you can, too. I think being a professional journalist, you need to have some other background thing and make sure you don’t tie yourself down to just one expertise. Make sure you take some other classes in other fields just because in the professional world, I feel like a lot of news organizations are looking for people who can do a little bit of everything, especially as newsrooms are getting smaller and smaller. I would also say if you’re passionate about audio, and you feel like you want to stick with it, try experiencing some of the other opportunities that campus has to offer. I work at KBGA, the campus radio station, and [that’s] a great place to learn about audio production and the music side of audio and sound management and how to edit sound and whatnot.

Q: Can you talk a little bit more about what you do for KBGA?

A: I’m the media director at KBGA, and I’ve been the media director for a year now. I do a lot of the audio production side of things. So I edit all of the podcasts that they do and upload podcasts that other people in the community submit to KBGA, and I’ll put those on our website. I do a lot of photography for them. I do almost all of our poster design when we need [that]. I also conduct most of our interviews with other artists in the community. We have this monthly music project called Play it Forward. And I take a lot of pictures for that event. And I also produce and edit a podcast interview with our music artists and nonprofits in the area.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: I would say it can be hard. It’s a lot of work. And having really good time management skills is what’s helped me out a lot. I also think just getting to know your professors is a really good way to get things done and to get knowledge that you might not even necessarily get from class. I’ll ask [Professor] Jule Banville questions about things I’m doing at KBGA and she’ll be like: ‘oh, you should try this.’ So just getting to know your professors and kind of building that relationship with them. And they can help you out a lot.

Mariah Karis on the Business of Journalism

By Kathleen Shannon

Mariah Karis organizes fresh merch for the Montana Kaimin, with a cover image she designed in the background.

Mariah Karis is a senior, flexing her journalism skills in the business world through communications and public relations. She’s the business manager at the Montana Kaimin student newspaper and she’s getting an Entertainment Management certificate at UM. She’s also interning with Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, the Born This Way Foundation.

Mariah sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about blending her interests and talents. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: So you’re in the public relations track?

A: Yeah, so track for me is a little tricky. I have been doing journalism mixed with business. And now I am interning for a nonprofit. So I basically have been using my journalism skills and my business skills to move forward in PR and communications. I’m not a business major or minor. But I have worked in the business school for the last couple of years as the social media manager and office assistant for the Entertainment Management program. And then I’m getting the Entertainment Management certificate. It’s very cool. You basically learn the business side of the entertainment world. So I’m kind of not the typical journalism student in a lot of ways. But I really wanted the skills and I really love writing, and I love video, and I love photography. And so I wanted to have those skills and be able to use them and kind of manipulate them as I need to. And I it’s been really helpful to say, you know, ‘Yes, I can write a grant. But I also can tell you about these social media ideas. And, you know, how about we try this? It’s a little more artsy, but this is probably how we should say it because it’s a little more captivating in a written way. And so it’s kind of been a Rubik’s cube of skills, which has been kind of cool.

Q: I don’t know much about that certificate. Can you list some of the other classes that area part of it?

A: Yes. So the entertainment management certificate basically has like a core section of intro to entertainment management, intro to event planning. But other classes are venue management. So what you need to know if you’re going to be renting a venue or interacting with venue staff. You can do different electives, like in the media arts school, if you want to learn more of the graphic design elements. And I’ve taken classes in graphic design and sound art and film. Basically, you take the core classes, and then you take electives that interest you in the areas that interest you. So I know they are starting to get more involved with like the eSports on campus, as well. It’s really one of the few programs that I think pushes interdisciplinary action, which is cool.

Q: What’s the dream job when you graduate?

A: Oh, that’s a question. I think, for me, the dream job is evolving because I don’t know what it looks like yet. I have done a lot of different roles that I didn’t expect to be doing. So right now I’m a partnership intern for Born This Way Foundation, which is Lady Gaga’s nonprofit, which is really, really cool. She popped onto a Zoom call a couple weeks ago, and I was just like: ‘that’s like Lady Gaga.’ And she’s like: ‘I’m so proud of everything you’re doing’. I was just like, dazed. So, yeah, that part’s nuts.

Q: What does her nonprofit do?

A: So Born This Way Foundation basically creates opportunities to connect youth with mental health resources through content and through different projects with different nonprofits around the country that also kind of tote the mental health [and] wellness ideals. The foundation works with them in different partnering efforts to create outlets and opportunities. So they just launched the Be There certificate, which basically teaches people how to recognize when their friends are struggling with mental health and what they can do in a really nice human-to-human way without putting too much responsibility on a friend. And it’s been very interesting to see how many ideas they have about making mental health less taboo and really accessing young people to let them know that. And so they’ve done different things where they like hop on Lady Gaga’s tour and have booths at her shows to reach out to young people. Lady Gaga and her mom set up this nonprofit. And so her mom now runs it mostly. And they’re all about promoting kindness and mental health and they’re just very genuine people, which is really interesting, because they’re interacting with Lady Gaga. It’s been really amazing. I’ve been learning partnerships and what that looks like, and nonprofits working with not only nonprofits, but universities and big corporations. I’ve been learning how to write grants. And those are all things [for which] my journalism skills come in handy, but I never learned in journalism school. So it’s like, I learned certain skills, and now I’m learning how to kind of morph them into different business sections of the world.

Q: Can you talk about the classes that you’ve taken at the J-School that have been the most valuable for your public relations work?

A: I think Social Media and Audience was really, really good to learn the ins and outs of social media. I also took the social media class in the communications department on campus. And that was really good for like practical, hands-on experience, and how to create campaigns. I think any type of writing class is really good. I think news stories and newsletters or press releases have a lot more in common than people think. And knowing how to get across like the nitty gritty details, as well as putting pieces of interest and emotion when it’s applicable. I think any of the writing courses have been really helpful.

I’m also in Marketing your Work right now. And we’re starting to talk about elements of marketing and taxes and freelancing and the ins and outs of things. And it’s been really interesting to hear J-Schoolers say, ‘we know nothing about this, we would love to know more about this.’ I think there’s a really great opportunity for the J-School to put a little more emphasis on the business side of things, as well, not only to understand why advertisements are important–that’s also how we get the money. So I’m also the business manager of the Kaimin and so I do all the advertising. It’s been very interesting to learn, what has to happen so that journalism can happen, basically. It’s been a lot of learning this year of like, all of the back-end things. Like you always see an amazing foundation doing a concert or something. And it’s like: ‘okay, well, what happened for that to happen?’ Or ‘what happened for this story to happen?’ Usually, it’s advertising or PR communications.

Q: I’ve talked to other students about the big sweeping changes journalism has seen in the last couple decades. It occurs to me that advertising is also seeing that shift with influencers. Sometimes I’m on Instagram watching an advertisement that I don’t realize is an advertisement for a minute, which is the craziest psychological experience. Can you talk about like the changes on that end?

A: Yeah, I think it’s been really interesting to have conversations with journalism students in particular, about advertisements and about the paywall that pops up on different sites and to pay wall or not to pay wall. [To talk about these] ideas of, ‘Does it bug you more to have advertisements on the side or to subscribe to something and pay for it?’ And most people are like: ‘we want access to it.’ I can’t subscribe to every single thing. It’s not feasible. I’s a very interesting thing that I think should maybe be talked about more because it has such power. So for like the Kaimin, if we saw more ads, we have more money to spend on, like, the audio department or to get merch or, you know, to do all these things. And I think there’s a piece of that that people don’t always think about and it’s not a great piece. Sometimes it really sucks because you have to, like, take out a story or something. But finding that balance between business and journalism is really important.

Q: Yeah, it’s vital. Can you talk about what your day to day duties are at the Kaimin as the business manager?

A: As the business manager, I work with a lot of different people on campus and locally that basically want to either advertise an event or advertise their business. I’m also a designer at the Kaimin, which is comes in handy because [I’m] also designing a lot of ads. So we figure out what kind of ad they want, what kind of pricing, what size. And then I work with the design team to make sure that happens. I do payroll for everybody. I deal with any hiccups in delivery. I also work with our distribution student advisor, basically. When I’m saying this out loud, it kind of sounds really boring. But it’s basically like all the gears that keep things moving.

Q: So I’m hearing you say that the glamorous part of journalism is not necessarily the business side. So what keeps you interested in that side?

A: So this is a side tangent. I work a lot with the Blackstone Launchpad. And I started my own small business last summer. So I basically sell new, used, vintage and upcycled items. And I’m trying to launch this media component that basically teaches people, young people specifically, how to have really cool spaces without spending a ton of money because money isn’t really available to young people. They’re like: ‘is it just posters on my wall? Like, is that what I have to do?’ And the answer is ‘no, you just have to get kind of creative.’ So I’ve been working with them quite a bit. And I did the John Ruffatto Business Startup pitch contest. The business school puts it on, and I didn’t learn until the end that I basically was competing against the MFA students as an undergrad, as a non-business major undergrad, which is super cool. But I was also like, very intimidated. I was one of two women. And so I won the Athena Award for Best Female Participation, which was cool. And I’m going to San Francisco next week, because I did a pitch contest and was a semifinalist for a National Blackstone Launchpad pitch contest. So basically, this is a roundabout way of saying I learned business through the eyes of a journalism student, which I think was really interesting. Because there’s so much business jargon, and I think it’s really hard to understand these really simple concepts sometimes. And I that was always my biggest pet peeve. It was just like: ‘what are you actually trying to say? What is the nut graf of this business session?’ It always seems so convoluted and really tricky. I think what interests me about business is when you strip it down, it’s not super complicated. But it’s almost like the power of different businesses resides in the people that understand this set of terminology. And so I feel like if I could be a person that is the bridge between the creative and the business, and I can like see both sides, I think there’s some really cool power in that. Because you can hear the creative vision, but also hear like: ‘okay, but we need to do X, Y, and Z to make sure we can still financially afford it.’ I think, as a leader, it’s a really cool and important place to be in where you can see both sides.

Q: Are you like allowed to talk about the pitch that you’re doing next week?

A: So the pitch is a one-minute pitch, basically, what is the business? Who is your target audience? What are you trying to do? How will you make money? Almost like the who, what, when, where? Almost like a nut graf of a story. What’s happening? Why should I care? But for a business. So learning the art of the pitch has been really interesting because I didn’t really understand how you’re supposed to do all of that in one minute. It’s almost like taking, you know, journalism skills, public speaking skills, and then knowing some business jargon, and putting them in a blender. It’s like: ‘okay, now present it.’ And so it’s been very interesting to know that I can do that. I don’t think I ever thought I was a business person, which is why I never did a business degree. I was just like, that’s too complicated. I will never be able to succeed at that. And so proving myself wrong has been very cool.

Q: What’s the best part about your personal experience exploring business in journalism?

A: I think the best part circles back to the tie of the emotional, artistic and business. Because what I’m learning is that a lot of people hear business jargon all the time. People get like mass emails all the time. And what really cuts through the noise is when you can get personal or when you can write from a place that is more entertaining or engaging. So it’s almost like business jargon can only go so far. You need that human piece. If I would have majored in business, I don’t think I would be where I am. I think not doing business every single day made me more interested in business. And I love writing, and I’m excited to write and maybe freelance. But I think the business is so interesting to me because there’s so much money and power with business. And I think if the right people could move into those leadership roles and actually put money into things that are sustainable, that are, you know, women- founded… Basically if people in power could move money into places where it’s benefiting the world in positive ways, I think things could change in a really good way.

Meghan Fatouros Takes on Video and Broadcast TV from Both Sides of the Camera

By Kathleen Shannon

Meghan Fatouros prepares to anchor the Montana PBS News Brief.

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.