Q&A with Outdoor Journalist Liam O. Gallagher, ’03: Keeping Up With the Media Landscape as a Freelancer

Liam O. Gallagher is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, editor and producer who captures stories of outdoor pursuits. His clientele includes brands like Patagonia, advocacy groups like Protect Our Winters and media outlets like The New York Times. Gallagher graduated from the J-School in the Spring of 2003 with a BA in print journalism and has freelanced for most of his career.

In a recent Q&A with graduate student Sage Sutcliffe, Gallagher shared his experience in the freelancing world through an ever-changing media landscape. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.

Liam O. Gallagher

Technology has changed so much since you began J-School in ’99. What was it like to experience the change?

We were right on that cusp of where, in a couple years, it all changed. Everything went full digital. So, I kind of felt lucky that I decided to chase the passion of outdoor employment, because it allowed me to watch the landscape, the media landscape, and not have all my eggs in that one basket, where I was all-in on a small newspaper or all-in as a freelance writer. It kind of gave me the flexibility to choose the stories I wanted to choose and to write, and then also still do other stuff.

What are some challenges of being a freelancer?

It’s up to me to be the business guy, the accounting guy, the content creator guy. You just have to do it all, which can be kind of draining. And the longer I’ve done it, it gets easier to do all that. But it’s still a lot of work. And I have a wife and two kids now, too, so there’s some real responsibilities that come with it.

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in outdoor filmmaking and journalism?

I would just spend as much time as possible outside with your camera gear or a pen and paper, and then seek out the people who are doing at the top level of whatever the pursuit is— snowboarding or fishing, or maybe it’s running or mountain climbing — and see how you can get in with them. Because, that’s a great way to just network without feeling schmoozy or networky — is just to approach them with honest curiosity about what they’re doing. The more people you connect with, the more opportunities kind of start popping up.

What’s your favorite subject to capture through the lens?

The beauty of the natural world, being in the mountains or being on a river and filming is just awesome. You’re in awe. And I think there’s a lot of value in awe and being a little person in a big world, a big natural world. So anytime I get to be filming nature with some human subjects that can tell me about what they’ve been through, I think that’s the best.

What is a professional accomplishment that you are most proud of?

It came out, I guess at the beginning of the pandemic a couple years ago, called Drop with another alumni from the University of Montana, Hilary Hutcheson. I was proud of that one because it was kind of a big project where we had a lot of moving parts, and then we also had to complete it through the pandemic, which was kind of wild. And I finished it. So, despite some obstacles and a pretty big idea, it all kind of came together.

And then, personally, having a couple of kids and a wife is awesome. The kids are so cool. It’s really hard, but it feels like a real accomplishment. And to see them be happy and outdoorsy, and they get along with each other most of the time. It’s a great personal accomplishment to be in a place like Bellingham that I really love and have this family going.

Good Work Wednesday: May 3, 2023

By Sage Sutcliffe

Top Montana News Stories

1. The remarkable life, death and tombstone of Manhattan’s Sammy Williams (Darrell Ehrlick / Daily Montanan)

Trans rights stories have been at the top of my newsfeed all week following the censorship of representative Zooey Zephyr of Missoula. This one, written by Darrell Ehrlick, shares an incredibly neat story of a trans figure from Montana history.

2. ‘Pushed out’: Two-Spirit student leaves St. Labre Indian School (Nora Mabie / Missoulian)

Reported by Nora Mabie, another important story profiles a Two-Sprit student, Sully Montoya. Montoya feels he has a both a masculine and feminine spirit, but he was unable to express himself freely at St. Labre Indian School in southeastern Montana.

3. Photo essay: 54th Annual Kyiyo Pow Wow (John Stember / Montana Free Press)

Check out Stember’s photo essay from the 54th annual Kyiyo Pow Wow at UM. Stember’s lede explains what the event is all about: “The celebration, organized by the Kyiyo Native American Student Association, was an opportunity to honor movement, family and culture, connect generations, and show off dance styles and regalia from different tribes.”

4. ICT opens news bureau in Montana (ICT Staff / ICT)

ICT (formerly Indian Country Today), a subset of IndiJ Public Media, is expanding its reach with a new news bureau in the J-School. “IndiJ Public Media and the University of Montana’s journalism school hope the partnership will increase and improve coverage of Indigenous issues throughout Montana as well as in neighboring states and southern Canada,” ICT wrote.

Top Environment and Science News Stories

1. Climate Change Is Walloping US Farms. Can This Farm Bill Create Real Solutions? (Lisa Held / Civil Eats)

After an info-packed lede, Held poses two questions in her nut graf:

“So, as negotiations around the 2023 Farm Bill, the country’s most important piece of food and farm legislation, heat up, the question is: will it play a meaningful role in addressing and responding to the climate crisis? Furthermore, can an unwieldy government bill, shaped by a bureaucratic system heavily influenced by the powerful agriculture lobby, really shift the food system toward a lower-emission, climate-resilient future?”

From there, Held reports on what the bill is intended to do for U.S. farmers, merging important environmental and economic concerns.

2. Dwindling sea ice and rising Arctic ship traffic may bring unwelcome visitors to King Island, Alaska (Emily Schwing / High Country News)

Schwing reports on King Island, Alaska, and the anticipated threats to “food security and cultural resources” on the island as climate change worsens. A short news piece, Schwing interviews descendants and residents of King Island to hear about their worries first-hand.

Top Student/Alumni Story

1. Bill requiring license to use state fishing access sites passes Legislature (Tom Kuglin / Missoulan)

J-School grad Tom Kuglin (’14) is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau covering the “outdoors, recreation and natural resources” beat. His concise news story for the Missoulian offers all the pertinent details that Montanans should know thus far about House Bill 521, “a bill that will require anyone using state trust lands, fishing access sites or wildlife management areas to first purchase a license has passed the Legislature.”

Good Work Wednesday: April 26, 2023

By Sage Sutcliffe

Top Montana News Stories

1. Protest Erupts at Montana Capitol as Transgender Lawmaker is Barred from Speaking

Montana is fortunate to have a robust press corps in the state Capitol. While other Capitol press corps shrink, Montana’s has grown exponentially in the last decade.

The benefits of having reporters, photographers and videographers with boots on the ground in Helena was on full display this week when law enforcement officers in helmets and carrying batons pushed protesters out of the House of Representatives after the Republican Speaker of the House refused to allow a transgender lawmaker to speak on a bill for the third day in a row. Rep. Zooey Zephyr, D-Missoula, was barred from speaking on the House floor after she told lawmakers last week that they would see “blood on your hands” if they voted for a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth.

The story became national news and journalists from all over the country have arrived in Helena to cover the fallout. But, it was Montana journalists, many of them J-School alumni, who are there to report, in real time, on what is happening.

In particular, Lee Newspapers’ Thom Bridge, ’13, Holly Michels, ’06, and Tom Kuglin, ’14, provided moment-by-moment coverage, including video and photography that gave readers a full picture of the protest and the arrests.

Montana Public Radio’s Shaylee Ragar, ’19, not only covered the moment for state audiences, but also explained the lead-up and the context to a national audience on NPR.

Nicole Girten, Blair Miller and Keila Szpaller, ’03, covered the day for the Daily Montanan.

On the TV side, Maritsa Georgiou, ’07, has been covering the events for Scripps News and Jonathan Ambarian, ’13, has covered every move for the Montana Television Network.

Mara Silvers was on the scene for the Montana Free Press and then wrote a follow-up by interviewing Gov. Greg Gianforte’s son David on how he’s lobbied against the LGBTQ+ legislation his father has supported this session.

Current graduate student and KFF/UM Legislative News Service fellow Keely Larson, meanwhile, wrote a profile of Zephyr the week before, just as tensions started to build, offering an intimate portrait of how Montana’s two transgender lawmakers are treated at the Capitol.

2. From ‘safe harbor’ to stranded (Mara Silvers / Montana Free Press)

Silvers reports on the Montana Professional Assistance Program, which once helped Montana health professionals recover from substance abuse and retain their healthcare licenses. Silvers includes a healthy combination of sources to communicate their stories with the Montana Free Press audience.

“Montana ended its relationship with a longstanding nonprofit that ran a recovery and monitoring program for health professionals, turning to a global company to fill the void,” writes Silvers. “Health care providers say the new program is hurting more than helping.”

Sharon Hancock, a nurse in Billings, has been in Montana’s recovery and monitoring program for more than four years. “We know that a person with the disease of addiction flourishes better in a supportive, inclusive environment,” she says. 

Photo by  Janie Osborne for MTFP / Shared with permission

3. Bill to Increase Funding for Individualized Education Programs Moves to Governor’s Desk (Denali Sagner / Flathead Beacon)

The Montana Legislative season isn’t over yet! Sagner keeps readers up-to-date on House Bill 257, which “will allow school districts to access greater funding for experiential learning programs.” What exactly does this mean? Sagner’s source Rep. Courtenay Sprunger clarifies: “It really is anything that would help the student pursue their interests.”

4. Big Sky, Montana: A New West Mountain Town Primed For Its Own ‘Big Burn’? (Joseph T. O’Connor / Mountain Journal)

O’Connor’s in-depth feature on the fire risk in Big Sky, MT is well worth the read. This article is part three of Mountain Journal’s series on wildfires, and O’Connor narrows in on Big Sky—a case study town that alludes to the much larger issue of wildfire danger in the West.

5. New solar array energizes Missoula (Bret Anne Serbin / Missoulian)

The sun has finally made an appearance in Missoula skies as we nudge into springtime—perfect timing for Missoula’s “massive new solar array” that was ceremoniously unveiled this week. Serbin reports on the reasoning behind the renewable energy addition.

6. Depressed? Anxious? Air pollution may be a factor (Jim Robbins / Kaiser Health News)

Another indirect impact of increasing population and climate change is emerging. “A growing body of research is finding links between air quality and mental health, as therapists report seeing patients with symptoms linked to pollution,” writes Montanan journalist Jim Robbins.

Top Environment and Science News Stories

1. California’s ‘super bloom’ is underway. Here’s why it’s so epic. (Story by Allyson Chiu, Graphics by Naema Ahmed / Washington Post)

Beautiful photos, videos and other visual elements accompany Chiu’s story about the ‘super bloom’ in California, made possibe by the extremely wet winter season. Although impressive, “this year’s showy display probably pales in comparison to the amount of flowers that might have bloomed before invasive plant species were introduced,” writes Chiu.

2. Indigenous leaders: Planetary health and Indigenous health are interdependent (Jenna Kunze / Global Indigenous Affairs Desk)

Kunze’s lede gets straight to the point: “Indigenous peoples around the globe agree that their health and the health of the planet are interdependent and in jeopardy. On day two of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, or UNPFII, this fact — that Indigenous people make up 5% of the world’s population but are responsible for 80% of its biodiversity — was repeated again and again by global Indigenous leaders.”

The rest of Kunze’s story shares what groups of Indigenous communities around the globe said at the forum.

Top Student/Alumni Story

1. ‘She’s a survivor’: The story behind Missoula’s Iris the Osprey (Jack Marshall / Montana Kaimin)

J-School student and Kaimin contributor Jack Marshall profiles a curious character—an osprey named Iris who lives near the Clark Fork River in Missoula. Marshall reports on Iris as though she were human, and Iris’ impressive life story makes for a great Kaimin feature. An in-flight photo of Iris by fellow Kaimin contributor Andy Mepham accompanies the piece.

Photo by Andy Mepham / Shared with permission