By Sage Sutcliffe

Top Montana News Stories

1. Protest Erupts at Montana Capitol as Transgender Lawmaker is Barred from Speaking

Montana is fortunate to have a robust press corps in the state Capitol. While other Capitol press corps shrink, Montana’s has grown exponentially in the last decade.

The benefits of having reporters, photographers and videographers with boots on the ground in Helena was on full display this week when law enforcement officers in helmets and carrying batons pushed protesters out of the House of Representatives after the Republican Speaker of the House refused to allow a transgender lawmaker to speak on a bill for the third day in a row. Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, was barred from speaking on the House floor after she told lawmakers last week that they would see “blood on your hands” if they voted for a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

The story became national news and journalists from all over the country have arrived in Helena to cover the fallout. But, it was Montana journalists, many of them J-School alumni, who are there to report, in real time, on what is happening.

In particular, Lee Newspapers’ Thom Bridge, ’13, Holly Michels, ’06, and Tom Kuglin, ’14, provided moment-by-moment coverage, including video and photography that gave readers a full picture of the protest and the arrests.

Montana Public Radio’s Shaylee Ragar, ’19, not only covered the moment for state audiences, but also explained the lead-up and the context to a national audience on NPR.

Nicole Girten, Blair Miller and Keila Szpaller, ’03, covered the day for the Daily Montanan.

On the TV side, Maritsa Georgiou, ’07, has been covering the events for Scripps News and Jonathan Ambarian, ’13, has covered every move for the Montana Television Network.

Mara Silvers was on the scene for the Montana Free Press and then wrote a follow-up by interviewing Gov. Greg Gianforte’s son David on how he’s lobbied against the LGBTQ+ legislation his father has supported this session.

Current graduate student and KFF/UM Legislative News Service fellow Keely Larson, meanwhile, wrote a profile of Zephyr the week before, just as tensions started to build, offering an intimate portrait of how Montana’s two transgender lawmakers are treated at the Capitol.

2. From ‘safe harbor’ to stranded (Mara Silvers / Montana Free Press)

Silvers reports on the Montana Professional Assistance Program, which once helped Montana health professionals recover from substance abuse and retain their healthcare licenses. Silvers includes a healthy combination of sources to communicate their stories with the Montana Free Press audience.

“Montana ended its relationship with a longstanding nonprofit that ran a recovery and monitoring program for health professionals, turning to a global company to fill the void,” writes Silvers. “Health care providers say the new program is hurting more than helping.”

Sharon Hancock, a nurse in Billings, has been in Montana’s recovery and monitoring program for more than four years. “We know that a person with the disease of addiction flourishes better in a supportive, inclusive environment,” she says. 

Photo by  Janie Osborne for MTFP / Shared with permission

3. Bill to Increase Funding for Individualized Education Programs Moves to Governor’s Desk (Denali Sagner / Flathead Beacon)

The Montana Legislative season isn’t over yet! Sagner keeps readers up-to-date on House Bill 257, which “will allow school districts to access greater funding for experiential learning programs.” What exactly does this mean? Sagner’s source Rep. Courtenay Sprunger clarifies: “It really is anything that would help the student pursue their interests.”

4. Big Sky, Montana: A New West Mountain Town Primed For Its Own ‘Big Burn’? (Joseph T. O’Connor / Mountain Journal)

O’Connor’s in-depth feature on the fire risk in Big Sky, MT is well worth the read. This article is part three of Mountain Journal’s series on wildfires, and O’Connor narrows in on Big Sky—a case study town that alludes to the much larger issue of wildfire danger in the West.

5. New solar array energizes Missoula (Bret Anne Serbin / Missoulian)

The sun has finally made an appearance in Missoula skies as we nudge into springtime—perfect timing for Missoula’s “massive new solar array” that was ceremoniously unveiled this week. Serbin reports on the reasoning behind the renewable energy addition.

6. Depressed? Anxious? Air pollution may be a factor (Jim Robbins / Kaiser Health News)

Another indirect impact of increasing population and climate change is emerging. “A growing body of research is finding links between air quality and mental health, as therapists report seeing patients with symptoms linked to pollution,” writes Montanan journalist Jim Robbins.

Top Environment and Science News Stories

1. California’s ‘super bloom’ is underway. Here’s why it’s so epic. (Story by Allyson Chiu, Graphics by Naema Ahmed / Washington Post)

Beautiful photos, videos and other visual elements accompany Chiu’s story about the ‘super bloom’ in California, made possibe by the extremely wet winter season. Although impressive, “this year’s showy display probably pales in comparison to the amount of flowers that might have bloomed before invasive plant species were introduced,” writes Chiu.

2. Indigenous leaders: Planetary health and Indigenous health are interdependent (Jenna Kunze / Global Indigenous Affairs Desk)

Kunze’s lede gets straight to the point: “Indigenous peoples around the globe agree that their health and the health of the planet are interdependent and in jeopardy. On day two of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, this fact — that Indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population but are responsible for 80% of its biodiversity — was repeated again and again by global Indigenous leaders.”

The rest of Kunze’s story shares what groups of Indigenous communities around the globe said at the forum.

Top Student/Alumni Story

1. ‘She’s a survivor’: The story behind Missoula’s Iris the Osprey (Jack Marshall / Montana Kaimin)

J-School student and Kaimin contributor Jack Marshall profiles a curious character—an osprey named Iris who lives near the Clark Fork River in Missoula. Marshall reports on Iris as though she were human, and Iris’ impressive life story makes for a great Kaimin feature. An in-flight photo of Iris by fellow Kaimin contributor Andy Mepham accompanies the piece.

Photo by Andy Mepham / Shared with permission

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