UM Journalism Graduate Wins Fulbright To Report on Syrian Women Seeking Refuge in Germany, Professor Joe Eaton Wins Fulbright to Teach in Vietnam

Lucy Tompkins, who graduated in December, will study Syrian women who have become refugees in Germany.

Recent University of Montana School of Journalism graduate Lucy Tompkins will spend a year in Germany studying and reporting on the experiences of Syrian women who have become refugees in Berlin as part of a Fulbright Young Professional Journalist Program fellowship.

Tompkins currently works at the Missoulian as the K-12 reporter, and in September will begin her Fulbright fellowship in Berlin, where she’ll combine her interest in women’s and refugee issues.

“The J-School prepared me so well to pursue stories of global importance, and I’m so excited for the opportunity to put what I’ve learned to work,” Tompkins said.

Tompkins was born in Seattle and lived for three years in central Mexico before moving up to Wyoming and then Montana in middle school. Her parents live in Bozeman, which she considers her hometown. Lucy graduated in December and majored in anthropology and journalism. She worked for the student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, as a features and admin and finance reporter, following the progress of the University’s budget and enrollment issues. Her favorite school reporting projects include a series on addiction services for pregnant women in Montana, and the Native News project on health care on Montana Indian reservations. She also spent three weeks in Berlin for a summer trip through Montana Journalism Abroad reporting on the refugee crisis, where she wrote a story about atheist refugees in refugee camps.

For her Fulbright fellowship, she plans to investigate the path of Syrian Muslim women to Germany, asking “Does it offer a promise of liberation from patriarchal Islamists, an encounter with new variations of oppression and prejudice, an opportunity for self-actualization, or a challenging environment that combines all of this?”

In her proposal, she writes that her project will fill a gap in media coverage of the Syrian refugee issue, writing, “Since the refugee crisis of 2015, we have read little about what female refugees themselves think about their situation as Muslim women in a largely secular country like Germany. Often, they are traumatized by what they experienced during their flight. They tend to be the last in their families to learn German or socialize with the locals. If they continue to wear the traditional clothes of their native countries, they are likely to be marginalized by dominant feminist thought, which advocates secularism.”

Her work will involve doing in-depth interviews and photographing Syrian women. She will work with professionals who will mentor her in the research and writing of this project, and will finish the grant with an internship at a paper in Germany.

Tompkins also joined several Journalism School students in winning a Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Award this year. Tompkins won in the feature writing category for a piece she wrote for the Montana Kaimin on how Montana law fails to protect victims of so-called “revenge porn.”

Assistant Professor Joe Eaton also won a Fulbright grant this year. Eaton will teach journalists and professors at Tra Vinh University in Vietnam for a month this summer with his grant.

Eaton joined the Journalism School’s faculty in the fall of 2013. He is a freelance writer for magazines and websites including National Geographic, The Atlantic, Pacific Standard and Wired. Eaton teaches courses in public affairs reporting, investigative reporting and editing. He is also leading students on a summer international reporting trip to Korea this summer through the Journalism School’s Montana Journalism Abroad program.




Alumni Spotlight: Erin Billings, Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Global Strategy Group

Graduates of the University of Montana School of Journalism go on to do great things, in journalism and beyond. They direct newsrooms, report on international issues, photograph history, inform the public on air, start their own businesses, influence public policy, publish books and become leaders in their communities. Here, we spotlight some of our alumni who showcase just how powerful, and versatile, a journalism degree from UM can be. 

This installment spotlights Erin Billings, who graduated in 1995. Billings worked as a political reporter in Montana and then in Washington D.C., where she spent 10 years reporting and editing for Roll Call. She then moved into public affairs and strategic communications and is now the Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for Global Strategy Group.

Question: Was this the type of work you thought you’d be doing when you went to school? Share any details you’d like on your work trajectory?

Answer: When I graduated from J-School, I thought I would spend my career in journalism. But after nearly 15 years, I was ready for a change, and decided to pursue a career in communications and public affairs. I’ve now been a communications consultant for six years, and I’ve found that the skills I honed as a journalist are wildly transferrable. Now I help clients navigate the media world so they know what to expect, when to expect it and how best to tell their stories.

Can you describe an average day on the job?

There’s no average day on the job in public relations, which is perhaps why I find it so rewarding. I work on a diverse and broad client portfolio – from nonprofits, to corporations to trade associations. Each client need is different (and evolving), and the issues and challenges change day-to-day.

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

Journalism School taught me the fundamentals – writing, editing, strategic thinking, all of which I use every day. The practical side of journalism, and the skills I learned at UM, taught me the importance of deadlines, responsiveness and decisiveness. It was one of the best building blocks I could have had in this career.

What are the skills you learned in J-School that you use on a daily basis? In your work? In your life?

Writing is one of the most important skills for any professional, no matter what path they choose. The J-School taught me how to write well, write thoughtfully, with precision and accuracy. The J-School also taught me to be curious, ask the right questions, and arrive at smart solutions. I use these skills every day, both professionally and personally.

What do you think makes the J-School special? Do you have any particularly fond memories of your time at the J-School?

The J-School is special, not only for the quality of the programs and the professors, but also because of the community it creates. The relationships and experiences I had on campus made such an impact on me personally and professionally. Some of my fondest memories were while working on the Kaimin, until all hours of the night, with an amazing group of students who wanted to work hard, loved the news, and who wanted to tell the most interesting stories in the most thought-provoking ways.

What do you wish you would have learned at the J-School?

I wished I had more time at the J-School so I could have explored some of the other aspects of journalism, including photo journalism. If I were to go back today, I would want to spend time learning about digital analytics and the sophisticated tools therein. I would also like to learn more about paid media strategies.

What advice would you give a student just starting out in journalism school? Or, what advice would you give to someone considering journalism school?

I would tell any prospective journalism school student to appreciate the range of possibilities a degree can offer. Journalism school is not just for someone interested in becoming a reporter; it offers a baseline of skills for a variety of careers (communications, journalism, public affairs, political work, advocacy, etc.). The fundamentals learned in journalism school can put any student on a successful professional path.



Alumni Spotlight Jack Ginsburg: ‘Journalism Is A Very Universal Degree’

Graduates of the University of Montana School of Journalism go on to do great things, in journalism and beyond. They direct newsrooms, report on international issues, photograph history, inform the public on air, start their own businesses, influence public policy, publish books and become leaders in their communities. Here, we spotlight some of our alumni who showcase just how powerful, and versatile, a journalism degree from UM can be. (If you are a graduate who would like to share your experience or know of someone we should spotlight, email Courtney Cowgill.)

This installment spotlights Jack Ginsburg, 2017, who got a job right after graduation working at KAJ-TV in Kalispell and now works at KPAX-TV.

Question: Can you describe an average day on the job and your current responsibilities?

Answer: An average day I wake up at 10 a.m. and go into work anywhere between 12-1 p.m. (awesome hours for sleep and work). Most days when I get into work I open up my email and sort through press releases that have been sent to me, or the news email. I choose the top stories and start to pursue them, calling contacts or possible interviewees that would be good for the story. Sometimes I don’t get calls back since I am the night side reporter and a lot of people only have until 4 or 5 to do the interview and already have something scheduled. In that case I always try to have a back up. I have a notebook with stories that can pretty much be done any day, like homelessness in the Flathead Valley or something on the jail systems in the valley, which is big right now, especially in Polson and Kalispell. I work at a bureau so I do everything myself. I shoot, interview and edit all of my news stories, then send them down to the broadcast studio in Missoula where they run the 5:30 and 10:00 news. Most of my stories go on the 10 o’clock news. I don’t really have any set responsibilities since the producers know that anything can happen and sometimes you have bad days and only get one, kind of lame story. On a good day I try to shoot a package and two or three vosots. 

What journalistic experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for your transition into a real-world journalism environment?

There are a lot of experiences at the J-School that gave me great preparation for the ‘real world.’ Probably the most notable is the fact that UM News is pretty damn close to being exactly how a news station runs. Instead of doing the stories in a week, I do them in one day. Ethics and Trends class also helped a lot with everyday things you experience on the job like how to handle difficult situations or how to properly report in an unbiased manner. I think the most helpful is that the J-school is like your parent teaching you to ride a bike. Your first year they are right there holding the seat, then out of nowhere they just let go, and if you paid attention to what they were saying the first year, you realize, ‘Hey, I can actually do this thing on my own.’ The professors are always there to help but they also give you responsibility and expect you to handle it, which is key in being successful in this field.

Can you explain the process of your job search senior year?

My senior year I was doing UM News and then one student told me I should intern at KPAX-TV, the local CBS affiliate in Missoula. I shot the news director an email and they looked at a few of my clips and gave me the internship. Two weeks into the internship, I ended up getting really lucky, as KPAX was looking for a weekend reporter. I decided to apply for it and got the job a week later (I highly recommend weekend reporting if the opportunity is available, most of the harder hitting news happens on the weekdays and the weekend is a great, smooth transition into the field.). I worked as the weekend reporter for the whole Spring semester and worked hard. After I graduated they offered me the full-time job in Kalispell and I took it. So, I got pretty lucky and didn’t even have to look for a job.

How do you feel about journalism now that you’re out of school and immersed in the industry? How does reality compare to your hopes and expectations?

I could write an entire essay on how I feel about journalism, but you don’t want or need to hear that. I love everything about it. It definitely has it’s ups and downs but there is so much inspiration in this field on a daily basis. That being said, a lot of times you have bad days … it’s just something you have to accept in this field. That’s probably one of my favorite things about TV. When you finish the day, unless you are working on a longer, investigative piece, you are done. That’s it. You leave the office and anything good or bad that happened is now behind you and you get to start over fresh tomorrow.

I think when you decide to major in journalism you see all the great parts of it, on the national level, but don’t see or hear much about the local or smaller markets. That is both good and bad. You need to spend a lot of time in this field to get where you want to and that can be a struggle for a lot of people but you also find there are incredible stories even in the smallest places.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of your job?

There are so many things I love about my job. I would have to say the best part is that I get to meet new people every single day. And on top of that I have started to form a bond with the community. You get to know people, you expand your network and contacts and people really start to trust you. I’ve already been offered three other jobs in random fields I never would have thought of. Journalism is a very universal degree, it allows you to do so much more than you think. I also love that I spend 90 percent of most of my days outside the office running around and keeping busy, it makes the day fly by.

My least favorite part is probably the stress you can feel when you don’t have a plan for the week or the day. Always do as much pre-reporting as possible.

How does the work load compare to college?

Honestly, I think I had more work in college. I have a lot of things to balance everyday at work, but most of them I am interested in and in college you are constantly doing homework for classes you couldn’t care less about. I also like that I do everything in one day rather than a week, like in UM News, I don’t have that time to procrastinate anymore.

What advice would you give to someone considering a journalism degree?

DO IT… Already, I have found how valuable this degree is. Sometimes I look at jobs on LinkedIn just for fun and it is incredible how many companies want journalists for jobs I didn’t think pertained to the major. Journalism and especially the school at UM gives us so many valuable tools to do so much more than just report or write.

Did you feel that your education prepared you for your job? In hindsight, is there anything you would’ve liked to focus on more than you did?

Hell yes it did. I wish I was there this semester honestly. I see that social media is becoming more prevalent at the J-school and I’m really interested in that. I also wish I did a college related podcast or focused more on radio while I had those tools available, that UM provides.

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the future?

I honestly do not know. If I stick with TV I want to see how far I can get. That means shooting for the stars. Why wouldn’t I set my standards high? I tell myself everyday to work hard and I know it will pay off, I have already seen it start to. I don’t want to sound to cocky but you should tell yourself that you can do great things in this field and have confidence, have a lot of it, but keep it to yourself (which I kind of didn’t just do, but you get it).

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There are so many great opportunities at the J-School and in the field of journalism right now. It is changing all the time and I really think our journalism school does a great job embracing it. But if you want to be a successful journalist, it’s ultimately up to you. Keep your nose to the grindstone and work your butt off, you’ll be happy you did. Also find time to unwind and separate yourself from your work life on your days off. Give yourself the rest and recovery your body and mind needs. Follow every lead. You never know when it could be a bigger story than it seems.


Tate Samata is finishing her fifth and final year at the UM School of Journalism, and will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology minor. Tate’s journalistic focus is primarily photo and multimedia, but she is also passionate about writing, copy editing and social media.