University of Montana Journalism Students Earn Top National Awards (Again!)

Jiakai (JK) Lou, right, in Helmville, Montana, last winter with Tyrel James Bignell. Courtesy photo.

Once again, University of Montana School of Journalism students showed the country what they can do, winning top prizes in regional and national competitions, including in the national Hearst Journalism Awards Program.

The Hearst Awards, sometimes called the college Pulitzer Prizes, include five writing, one radio, two TV and four multimedia competitions. Students at 104 accredited universities are eligible to compete.

This year, in the 60th annual awards, UM J-School students placed in the top 10 in four categories and in the top 20 in four more competitions.

Overall, the University of Montana is in 4th place for the Intercollegiate Multimedia Competition, which accumulates points from student placements.

Mollie Lemm. Courtesy photo.

Recent graduate JiaKai Lou placed first in multimedia narrative competition for his documentary, “32 Below,” which looks at the hard work and passion of one ranching family as they tend their cows and calves during last year’s frigid winter in Helmville, Montana. The film was also chosen to show at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival.

Another new graduate, Mollie Lemm, placed in 8th place in Multimedia II, Innovative Storytelling and Audience Engagement Competition and Quinn Corcoran placed 16th in Multimedia III – Enterprise Reporting.

In photojournalism, UM junior Sara Diggins won 2nd Place in Photojournalism I – News and Features for her portfolio, which documented a wide range of emotions, from grief to suspense to surprise to humor. And, Trevor Reid placed 20th in the highly competitive Photo Picture Story Competition, for his series of photos about a young high school cycling phenomenon from Missoula who competed and excelled at the National Cyclocross Championships this year. Diggins also had earlier won the Bronze Medal in the College Photographer of the Year contest in the Sports Feature Photography category.

Sara Diggins. Photo by Mollie Lemm.

UM also grabbed a top-10 Hearst win in Radio News and Features with Aidan Morton in 10th place. Becca Olson also placed in the top 20 of that competition.

In the writing category, recent grad Paul Hamby, now at the Missoulian, placed in the top 20 twice, in enterprise reporting and in personality profile writing.

J-Schoolers also cleaned up in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards, with 26 regional winners and 11 regional champions, which advanced to the national competition.

UM J-School claimed two national wins, including Sara Diggins, who won for her Montana Kaimin story “Vapergate” in the Photo Illustration competition. Diggins’ photography documenting the climate strike protest in Missoula was named a regional winner.

The 2019 student documentary unit also was named a national winner for their documentary “Trash talk: Montana’s recycling challenge” in the Television In-Depth Reporting category. You can watch it here on Montana PBS.

Tessa Nadeau. Courtesy photo.

Recent graduate Tessa Nadeau, now working at ABC-Fox Montana, was a national finalist for her piece “Transgender runner, June Eastwood,” which first appeared on the student-produced UM News program.

The 2019 student documentary unit also was named a national winner for their documentary “Trash talk: Montana’s recycling challenge” in the Television In-Depth Reporting category. You can watch it here on Montana PBS.

Paul Hamby earned a regional champion spot in Feature Writing for his piece in the Missoulian, “Lance Cpl. Thomas Parker: Inmate No. 3023132, Bib No. 4109.” And, Hunter Wiggins won in General News Photography for a Veteran’s Day project

In the Online News Reporting category,  Marnie Craig and Luke Nicholson won for their Native News piece, “Missing” and in Online Feature Reporting, Sara Diggns won for “Darkitecture and disorientation” in the Montana Kaimin. In Online In-Depth Reporting, Eli Imadali and Jordynn Paz won for their piece in Native News, “Left Behind.”

Quinn Corcoran won for “Missoula strikes for the climate” in the Online/Digital News Videography category.

Paul Hamby. Courtesy photo.

In the radio competition, UM student Regina Fitzsimmons, won in radio features for her piece, “Falling in love for three minutes: A woman in transition finds her place on the dance floor.” And, Maxine Speier, won in in-depth radio for “To catch a predator fish.”

Several other regional finalists from UM include:

UM J-School students also earned nominations in the NATAS Student Production Awards, which recognize outstanding achievement in video production. They were nominated in four categories:

  • Newscast
    • UM News 2019 • University of Montana • David Atkinson, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew • Griffin Rerucha, Producer/Reporter/Anchor • Graham Gardner, Director • Tessa Nadeau, Producer/Reporter/Anchor • Tina Brennan, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew • Sydney Hanson, Director • Briane White, Reporter/Photographer/Studio Crew
  • Long Form Non-Fiction
    • Trash Talk: Montana’s Recycling Challenge • University of Montana • Quinn Corcoran, Graphics/Reporter/Photographer • Dominik Stallings, Producer • Galen Koon, Producer/Director • Kiana Hohman, Reporter/Photographer • Jenny Gessaman, Narrator • Justin Jackson, Reporter/Photographer • Keith Szudarski, Reporter/Photographer
  • News: General Assignment-Light
    • ROTC Community Service • University of Montana • Tessa Nadeau, Reporter/Writer/Shooter/Editor
  • Sports
    • Transgender Runner • University of Montana • Tessa Nadeau, Reporter/Writer/Shooter/Editor

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.”

J-School Alumni Tips: Mederios Babb

Mederios Babb is a news reporter at the CBS affiliate, KSEE/CBS47, in Fresno, California. Mederios grew up in Butte, America and graduated from the University of Montana in December of 2017. While at UM, she received the Northwest Regional College Student Award of Excellence in 2016 and the Dean’s Award.

Prior to making a major market jump to Fresno, Mederios covered breaking news, city and county government and national news events for KBZK, the CBS station in Bozeman.

Mederios has some great advice and insight from her days at the J-School to help guide students as they map out their journalism future.

Mederios Babb

At the J-School: August 2014 – December 2017

Areas of focus: broadcast journalism, investigative journalism, minor in business administration, producer of documentary unit, “Montana RX: Unintended Consequences.”

How did a J-School education affect your career path?

Mederios Babb, anchoring the evening news at KBZK, Bozeman

It definitely affected my career path by getting me a job right out of college. My last semester of college, I already had two offers on the table from Montana TV stations: KPAX in Missoula and KBZK in Bozeman. I ended up turning the offers down because I really wanted a position in Spokane that I ended up not getting. My first real job rejection took me by surprise, but it was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it made me stronger. KBZK reached back out to me in February and after a lot of thought, I made the decision to work for KBZK/KXLF. I spent a little over a year covering a little bit of everything, but mainly focusing on city and county government. It was my experience there that allowed me to grow immensely and now I am now at my second market in Fresno, California., which is a huge jump.  

What are you doing now and how did your journalism education prepare you?

I am currently a news reporter for KSEE24 and CBS47 in Fresno, California. I started in May 2019 and can already tell that I made the right move by how much I am improving. I am one of the youngest people in the newsroom, meaning I need to work extra hard for people to take me seriously and show that I do have what it takes. My education prepared me by giving me a strong foundation. The business has changed a lot over the years and now reporters are expected to know how to do it all. What I mean by that is everyone coming out of college need to know how to be an MMJ (multimedia journalist) and that includes knowing how to use the camera (iris, shutter speed, white balance, focus, exposure), shoot video, edit, write, audio track, and post digitally. It is a lot of work but that is the way the business has shifted. The University of Montana really helped me by teaching me how to shoot video well and efficiently putting me ahead of many others. Yes, it is great to be great at one skill, but it is even better to be good at many skills. It makes you more diverse and valuable to future employers.  

What do you wish you knew when you first started at UM? 

Take advantage of having weekends off. Don’t rush your education but also don’t take your degree lightly. Participate in as many activities, hobbies, events as possible. Work on creating an image and audience through social media. Learn how to use Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Snapchat to your advantage. It will help you and your station in the long run.  

What advice do you have for students considering pursuing a degree at the J-School?

I would say to make sure that you are willing to put in the hard work and are serious about pursuing a career in the field. I know so many people who have not stayed in the business because they were not cut out for it. You must be a hard worker with a lot of dedication to put in the work. If you are passionate about telling people’s stories, then it will be worth it, if not you are wasting your time.  

What tips do you have for incoming students at UM?

I have always lived by the saying “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” and each day I remind myself that as long as I am working hard and improving, I will be OK. This business is not easy, and if you are looking for a 9-5 job Monday-Friday, this is not the right profession for you. However, if you love to get out and explore, tell stories, and see raw emotions, this is the right fit. You will be able to do things many don’t get to experience like reporting on a presidential visit, flying in a six-person plane, operating an excavator, and so much more. If you work hard and go to work willing to learn each day, you will be great. One last tip that I wish someone would have told me: it is OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and don’t let them define you. You will mess up, that is OK. You will make mistakes, that is OK. However, how you react to those mistakes and making sure not to make those mistakes again will set you apart from the rest. 

Beyond your journalism education, what were some of your favorite experiences in the community of Missoula?

I loved First Fridays and being from Butte it was always fun to go to the Mo Club on the weekends. I am a big sports fan and spent a lot of time at the Pressbox and also loved going for hikes up to the M.  Some of the best places to eat are Ciao Mambo and 5 on Black. 

Since leaving the J-School, what do you miss the most?

I do miss the football games and seeing professors like Kevin Tompkins, Ray Fanning and Ray Ekness. 

What are some key facts and personal reflections you think potential recruits would benefit from knowing about the J-School?

This degree is very hands-on and if you like to learn by doing, this would be a wise pick for you. Every day is different and you will be able to do things most people never get the opportunity to do. The J-School set me up for my career but you will honestly learn the most by getting out and doing. I learned so much after school during my first three months in the business. Each day, I feel like I am getting better and hopefully one day my hard work ethic, drive, and passion for getting news will help propel me to where I hope to be one day, which is a top-5 market. The J-School gave me the skills (especially with the camera) to make me stand out and work toward that goal each day.