Q&A With Lauren Heiser, ’19: ‘You are Learning Much, Much More Than Just How to Report the News’

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. 

Ask a Grad: UM Journalism Grad Ric Sanchez on Bringing His Social Media Skills to the Washington Post

While at the University of Montana School of Journalism Ric Sanchez served as editor at the Kaimin, the independent student newspaper, but also had a deep interest in the technology and business of the Web and social media. It was that mix of journalism and technology that helped him land first an internship and later a full-time job at the Washington Post.

Recently, Sanchez took over his alma mater’s Instagram feed to field questions from people about everything from what he does day-to-day to how to land a killer internship.

Here’s what he had to say during a Q&A on Instagram:

What do you do as a Social Media editor?
“Half my day is spent selecting, writing, and scheduling posts for our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and the other half of my job is doing project coordination for a lot of our big feature stories around the newsroom.”

What first made you interested in journalism/social media?
“Ah, I’ve wanted to be a journalist ever since I was a little kid, my mom worked at a newspaper and it always seemed like a really cool job. As far as social media, I’ve always just been a super online person and I had a lot of good conversations about the Internet with Lee Banville when I was at UM.”

What experience/skills prepared you most for getting this job?
“I had a ton of jobs at the Kaimin, including online editor, but honestly any chance you get to do campus media whether it’s the Kaimin or KBGA or UM News or Native News, take that opportunity because it’s a good way to practice (and practice failing) journalism.”

What’s your advice on landing a killer internship?
“My advice on landing a killer internship would be to start with a couple smaller internships and then build your way up. It’s easier to land an internship at a bigger newsroom like the Post or the Times or the L.A. Times if you have a couple smaller ones under your belt to show that you know how to do the work.”

Grace Case Project Alumni Look Back on Covering Groundbreaking Case at the UM School of Journalism’s Homecoming Roundtable

By Jazzlyn Johnson

University of Montana School of Journalism Student

In 2009, when University of Montana journalism and law students started covering the criminal trial of the chemical company W.R. Grace, many of them did not realize how cutting edge their reporting would be.

In the lawsuit, the federal government alleged that Grace knew asbestos from its vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana was making people in the small town sick, and that executives covered it up.

It was a national story, but the trial took place just across the river from UM, walking distance from campus. It was also about the time that social media started really changing the way news is gathered and disseminated. Students took advantage of both of those things to cover one of the biggest environmental stories in recent history, and do it in new ways.

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the Grace Case Project, which brought together students from the School of Journalism and the School of Law to cover U.S. v. W.R. Grace.

Last week, three of the students, Chris D’Angelo, Laura Lundquist and Katy Furlong, came together for the School of Journalism’s homecoming alumni roundtable, to share their experiences and talk about how it added to their careers.

Journalism professor Nadia White, who taught the Grace Case Project class, relayed stories of W.R. Grace miners coming home after work covered in dust that contained life-threatening asbestos, which would then be released to the rest of their family. She said the asbestos was also in the bark of trees and in piles around town and on playgrounds.

There were also expansion plants all over the nation where people had no idea they were working in old plants that contained asbestos, White said.

Although the mine closed in 1990, White said the waste persisted and has had lasting effects.

The 10-week case, which took place in U.S. District Court in Missoula, resulted in the company’s acquittal.

“We were trying to be objective, but it we felt for the people of Libby,” said Lundquist who is now an environmental reporter for the Missoula Current.

Furlong was one of the law students tasked with explaining the legal strategies from the courtroom in a way that was easy for readers to understand.

Because Furlong and the other law students were used to writing for the courts and not the public, they had a chance for their writing to be read by more people.

“Lawyers forget their audience is the jury,” said Furlong. She said she noticed the jury not paying attention to the elaborate and boring documents the lawyers put in front of them. “That didn’t do (the lawyers) any favors.”

“I don’t think there’s been a trial quite like that in Missoula,” said Beth Brennan, who taught legal writing at the School of Law and worked with students on the Grace Case Project.

The students’ coverage gained national media attention from publications like the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal and brought thousands of viewers to their website.

Every day of the trial, the journalism and law students went to the courthouse to write recaps and live tweet the trial.

Brennan said originally, reporters were not normally allowed to use technology like laptops and phones in the courtroom since there were concerns about noise and disruption. They requested permission from U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy and were eventually granted permission to tweet and use their laptops inside the courtroom.

White said by the end of the trial, the students had 14,000 tweets on their Grace Case Project account, which got the attention of Biz Stone, Twitter’s co-founder, who was curious about what they were using Twitter for.

“I still find myself using Twitter the same way I did in this class,” said D’Angelo, who was a student reporter for the Grace Case Project in 2009 and is now an environmental reporter for the Huffington Post.

He said the class helped him and other students to grow a thick skin and learn their own styles.

“This class is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing and stuck with environmental journalism,” D’Angelo said.