In May 2017, a group of Montana Journalism Abroad (MTJA) students will travel to Japan and report on the issues that continue to affect people displaced by a trio of disasters that struck the northeast part of the country in 2011. On March 11 of that year, a severe earthquake triggered a tsunami that decimated coastal towns, and damage from the wave led to the meltdown of nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. The nuclear fallout forced citizens to drop everything and leave their homes behind. After five years of clean-up efforts, the government has started to encourage people to return to their homes, but many people remain fearful of lingering radiation.
During their trip, the students will tour the affected areas, interview citizens and government officials, and then produce a multimedia package that tells the stories of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. These stories of displacement will resonate with Montanans who are no stranger to natural and industrial disasters, such as wildfires and leaking mine waste. As the group prepares for the trip, they are raising public awareness of the ongoing challenges of Fukushima residents.
With the screening of the documentary “Alone in Fukushima,” students invite the Missoula community to take a closer look at life inside the red zone. Just seven miles away from the nuclear power plant, Naoto Matsumura is the only person left in town. He risks the radiation to look after the domesticated animals that families left behind. Japanese filmmaker Mayu Nakamura follows Matsumura on his quest to care for the creatures and save them from starvation.
This Thursday, November 17, join the students of MTJA as they screen “Alone in Fukushima” at 6:30 p.m. in room 210 of the J-School. After the film, the director will skype in from Japan for a Q&A session. Admittance is free, but any donations are welcome and will help reduce travel costs.
Melissa McCoy, a former deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, will deliver the University of Montana School of Journalism’s annual T. Anthony Pollner Lecture on Monday, Oct. 3. Her topic: “What the Media Communicate About Mental Illness.”
The lecture, which is free to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the University Center Theater. McCoy said she is interested in why violence is often a theme in news coverage “when people coping with a mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators.”
She believes the media are making some progress in how such stories are covered but need to do better.
“What the news media tell us about mental illness is getting a bit deeper,” McCoy said, “but most stories are still reactive. By that I mean we chase the news when there’s violence, but we generate relatively few stories about how mental illness affects tens of millions of ordinary Americans every year.”
McCoy spent 17 years at the LA Times, advancing from metro copy editor to a deputy managing editor supervising 250 journalists. In addition to overseeing the paper’s award-winning copy desks, graphics department and researchers, she frequently was the final editor for major projects, a number of which won Pulitzer Prizes. During her newspaper and magazine career, McCoy also worked as a reporter, copy chief, news editor and assignment editor.
Since leaving the LA Times in 2009, McCoy has been a media consultant, writer and editor. She was a visiting faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, where she had previously served as an ethics fellow. At UM she teaches a seminar that focuses on reporting and writing about sensitive topics that include rape, murder, suicide and mental illness.
McCoy is the school’s 17th Pollner Professor, a professorship created in 2001 in memory of T. Anthony Pollner, a UM journalism alumnus and a dedicated staff member at the Montana Kaimin who died two years after graduating. The Pollner endowment allows the school to bring a distinguished journalist to campus each semester to teach a course and to mentor students at the Kaimin.
Founded in 1914, the School of Journalism is now in its second century of preparing students to think critically, act ethically and communicate effectively. To learn more about the School of Journalism, visit http://jour.umt.edu/.
Every Monday morning, adjunct professor John Twiggs started class with a countdown, reminding the students how much time remained for them to finish their documentary. That number started with 15 weeks, but on the first day of finals week, the countdown hit the final 48 hours of production.
The documentary, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” will premiere at the University Center Theater on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. as part of the Senior Showcase. However, the rest of the state will get to see the show on MontanaPBS on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m.
Upper-level journalism students have the option to take the Student Documentary Unit every spring semester. However, this year’s group started researching ideas for the show back in December. A class vote revealed an overwhelming decision to pursue the topic of autism and how it impacts the lives of Montanans.
After more research, the students noticed a significant gap in autism care as individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) transitioned from school-age to adulthood. With the number of individuals being diagnosed with autism on the rise, they realized that the stress placed on the limited number of current care options for adults with ASD was ill-prepared to meet the needs of the incoming wave of adults on the spectrum.
“I want to do something that’s worthwhile, and I feel we have a good group to do it,” said senior Peter Riley, the director of the show. “Everybody knows we have each other’s back as a team, and everyone’s really stepped up and come to the table with some fresh ideas and some talents.”
The students traveled across Montana to follow the lives of four families, each with a child on the autism spectrum. As a class, they chose their main characters to reflect a diversity of ages, abilities, finances and access to care. The class spent quality time at home with their characters, attending therapy sessions and time at the workplace too. Students also interviewed autism specialists to shed insight on autism itself, the diversity care options and relevant legislation in Montana.
Once the group made the transition from shooting to editing, Twiggs told the class, “It’s time to take a hard look at what you do and don’t have. Get everything on the table that shows your best moments.”
Since then, the students have rewritten their scripts and finessed the edited footage to tell a story that speaks to the unique situations of each family, while also capturing the overarching struggles that unites them all.
“It’s definitely the most worthwhile thing I’ve done at the J-school,” said Andy Anderson, the director of photography. “It’s also been the hardest project I’ve worked on, without a doubt, but I think we have a really good pairing of people with skills. We just have killer writers and awesome videographers.”
The majority of the members in Student Doc will graduate the day after the documentary premieres on campus.
“I think Doc is a wonderful experience. We may not get the chance to do this thing for quite a while, if ever again, so let’s step out strong and leave with a product that we can be proud of,” Riley said. “I’m so thankful to be surrounded by a group of individuals that thinks that way too.”
Check out the 30-second and 60-second trailers for the documentary on the Facebook page, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” which will also air on MontanaPBS in the days leading up to the television premiere. Students also plan to post behind-the-scenes footage from the making the documentary, providing exclusive insight to their process and the families they followed.
The complete documentary will be available via the MontanaPBS website after the scheduled air date on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. Past documentaries from the Student Documentary Unit can also be accessed from their website.