NPR Reporter Nathan Rott: ‘… At Once The Hardest Educational Experience I’ve Ever Had. But Also Just So, So Awesome.’

By Erin Sargent

From Missoula to Antarctica and everywhere in between, University of Montana Journalism alumnus Nathan Rott has done it all: firefighting, fishing, working odd jobs across the world and eventually telling stories for National Public Radio as an on-air reporter.

Working for NPR’s National Desk, Rott covers environmental issues and says that he’s also one of the “breaking news guys,” working on stories like the Thousand Oaks shooting and the California wildfires.

He says he first tried his hand at journalism writing for Missoula Sentinel High School’s Konah newspaper. When he arrived at the University of Montana, he wasn’t sure about a journalism major. He thought about exploring theater or forestry, and eventually declared a major in anthropology.

But it was Nadia White’s reporting class that really got him hooked on journalism.

“It was at once the hardest educational experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “But also just so, so awesome.”

That reporting class set the path for the rest of Rott’s college career. He decided on a double major in anthropology and journalism. And his plans after graduation?

“I graduated in winter and I hightailed it to Nicaragua,” he says.

Rott likes to joke that he was a “pretty successful degenerate” for a while. He spent his summers fighting fires and planned to become a city firefighter, writing freelance magazine articles on the side.

And then Rott got some advice from professor Carol Van Valkenburg and took a chance, applying for the Stone and Holt Weeks Fellowship, an opportunity for non-traditional journalists to work with the Washington Post and NPR.

He got the call to interview in Washington, D.C., and immediately asked his mom to send his suit up to him in Kalispell, Montana, on a Greyhound bus.

Rott landed the fellowship and spent six months working in D.C., working for some of the best editors at the Washington Post and NPR. He says he still feels incredibly lucky.

When the fellowship ended, he took a break from journalism. He went to Antarctica for five months. He traveled through the Middle East, he worked seasonally in Alaska as a fisherman, the list goes on.

Through it all, Rott stuck with freelancing and, eventually, it paid off. On a trip to D.C. to edit a story, Rott met up with his former editor at NPR, who offered him a job.

“He basically told me, ‘if you can get to LA in seven days, you’ve got a job for two months,’” Rott says. “I turned a two-month contract into another month contract, and I got another month contract after that.”

Rott strung together month-by-month contracts with NPR for two years and was eventually offered a full-time position as a reporter. And that’s where he’s at now: driving around the country, covering stories about wildfires, grizzly bears and the occasional retiring rodeo bull. He says he owes it all to the UM J-School.

“There are a lot of people like me who came from that school and are proud to be coming from that school,” says Rott. “We are where we are today because of that school.”

Rott is currently covering the ongoing discussion of public support for the Endangered Species Act, specifically how it has been affecting the Yellowstone grizzly population for NPR. His work can be found at

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.


Be the Best and Be Kind: Wisdom from UM Journalism Grad and Nike Video Producer Thea Bergeron

By Kiana Hohman

Thea Bergeron is the action star of J-School alumni, having filmed from helicopters, private planes, trains, and speeding SUVs.

A lot of this production excitement comes courtesy of her main client, Nike. Bergeron has been producing videos with Nike as a freelance senior creative video producer for more than seven years. Her videos are used in Nike stores, online, and many other platforms.

“My job has provided me with a lifetime of unforgettable experiences,” Bergeron said.

Her career started with a bachelor’s in communication, and a minor in business, from Southern Oregon University in 1994. She then moved to Montana and got a bachelor’s in journalism in 1999.

After graduating from UM, Bergeron moved back to Oregon and interned for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She then got hired as a video production assistant, and worked her way up from there.

As a senior creative producer at Nike, Bergeron, now 47, works on projects from “concept to completion.” She deals with the budget, hiring talent, securing locations and directing shoots.

“My favorite part of the job is telling a story,” she said.  

Although based in Portland, Bergeron’s job takes her all over the world from Dubai to Japan and Uruguay.

Bergeron said college helped expand her knowledge and worldview. It is important to understand what the goal is and go after it, she said.

“It just takes passion, hard work, tenacity, lots of late nights and long days,” said Bergeron. “There are a lot of people that do this job, so you have to be the best at what you do and be kind to everyone because it all comes back around.”

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.

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.