By Kathleen Shannon
Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Peyton Butler has almost completed the audio track at the J-School. She’ll graduate after completing her Wilderness Studies minor in the field this fall. She was sold on audio after interning for Montana Public Radio, which is housed at UM. She’s also the media director at the university radio station, KBGA, and an intern with a podcast called Stories for Action.
Peyton sat down with graduate student Kathleen Shannon to talk about her diverse experiences in audio. The transcript of their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What got you interested in audio? Why and when did you decide to pick that track?
A: So to be honest, I came to UM not to study journalism. I started my first semester here studying forestry. I switched because in high school, I was the editor of our school newspaper’s audio branch. So I did all the podcasting stuff for my high school’s media network. And I’ve always just kind of liked podcasts. I loved listening to podcasts all through middle school and high school. And I kind of hadn’t thought of it as a career path until my first semester at UM, [when] I got an internship with Montana Public Radio (MTPR). And I wasn’t a journalism major at that point. After I got that internship, I was like: ‘okay, then I guess this is something I’m very passionate about. I could make this into a career if I wanted.’ And so I changed my major to journalism and started on the audio track from there.
Q: Can you talk more about your internship MTPR and how that like helped clarify your path? What kinds of stories did you work on there?
A: I had that internship for technically two school years. I got to do a lot of the evening newscasts and so I got to pull lots of different stories from the from the [Associated Press] wire and record those and then those got aired on MTPR in the evenings. And I got to do some short spot stories as well. The beat that I got to follow a lot was public land and natural resources because my other minor that I’m studying is climate change studies. Environmental reporting is something else I’m really passionate about besides audio. So I did some environmental stories for them, as well. It was a lot of just learning how a newsroom works. During my second school year with MTPR, it was all remote [and] I was working from home. So there wasn’t as much of like the newsroom aspect, I guess. But definitely during my first year, I learned a lot about how a newsroom works and this is how you talk with other reporters there and how you work professional audio equipment and whatnot. So I think it was a big learning experience for me to learn how the news making process goes.
Q: Can you talk a project you’ve worked on that you’re proud of?
A: So this kind of has to do with J-School, but it’s technically for my minor. I’m a podcast editor for this group called Stories for Action. And they’re a production company that works on documentaries and storytelling surrounding climate change in Montana. And so I’ve been helping their lead production person Lara Tomov. I’m doing an internship with her editing her podcast. So I’ve been listening to all the interviews she did last summer and going through and editing those into more [of] a succinct podcast form. And that’s been super interesting because it’s right up my alley. And it follows my interests almost to a T. And I’ve been learning a lot, too, about how to report in the field and how to deal with wind and rain and stuff when you’re trying to report. So that’s something that I’ve been really proud of that I’m working on right now.
Q: That’s exciting. What is your dream job after graduation?
A: I’ve got a couple of dream jobs. There’s a couple different things I would love to do. I’d love to work for either NPR or an NPR affiliate station, doing Morning Edition or [All Things Considered], or just being a general reporter there start to out. I’d love to be an environmental reporter, specifically an audio reporter. Or a reporter who’s able to follow the climate change beat because I think that’s something that’ll keep evolving and changing as the years go on. I would also love to work being a writer for an outdoor recreation magazine. That’s something else I’m really passionate about. And outdoor education is something I love. And so being able to work for, like, Outside magazine or something would be super cool. Or being a writer for Protect Our Winters, which is another group that I really love and support.
Q: In terms of your time doing audio at the University of Montana, what’s been a highlight? And what’s been something more challenging?
A: The best part would probably be my internship I was able to have with MTPR. That was basically doing my dream job my freshman year of college. And I was like 18. So I think that’s been the highlight. I think the hardest part has been I’ve had some difficulties doing some reporting in the past year. And just, like, stories falling through. And working really hard to try to get in contact with people because I want to do this one specific story and just having it not work out. I think that’s been really tough dealing with the fact that there is this super cool story that I really want to write about. And the people who would be involved just aren’t as passionate or aren’t willing to talk with you. So kind of grappling with that feeling of not necessarily disappointment, but just feeling lost, in the moment, and then trying to figure out what my next steps are after that and kind of starting from scratch again.
Q: Is there something you would say you’ve learned from that part of the process?
A: Persistence is key. I mean, not to the point where you’re, like, completely bugging another person. I think setting boundaries with other people is super important, especially as a journalist. But if something doesn’t work out, just keep trying another avenue. Try another angle and see if that’ll help you out.
Q: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in audio at the J-School?
A: Experience everything else that you can, too. I think being a professional journalist, you need to have some other background thing and make sure you don’t tie yourself down to just one expertise. Make sure you take some other classes in other fields just because in the professional world, I feel like a lot of news organizations are looking for people who can do a little bit of everything, especially as newsrooms are getting smaller and smaller. I would also say if you’re passionate about audio, and you feel like you want to stick with it, try experiencing some of the other opportunities that campus has to offer. I work at KBGA, the campus radio station, and [that’s] a great place to learn about audio production and the music side of audio and sound management and how to edit sound and whatnot.
Q: Can you talk a little bit more about what you do for KBGA?
A: I’m the media director at KBGA, and I’ve been the media director for a year now. I do a lot of the audio production side of things. So I edit all of the podcasts that they do and upload podcasts that other people in the community submit to KBGA, and I’ll put those on our website. I do a lot of photography for them. I do almost all of our poster design when we need [that]. I also conduct most of our interviews with other artists in the community. We have this monthly music project called Play it Forward. And I take a lot of pictures for that event. And I also produce and edit a podcast interview with our music artists and nonprofits in the area.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I would say it can be hard. It’s a lot of work. And having really good time management skills is what’s helped me out a lot. I also think just getting to know your professors is a really good way to get things done and to get knowledge that you might not even necessarily get from class. I’ll ask [Professor] Jule Banville questions about things I’m doing at KBGA and she’ll be like: ‘oh, you should try this.’ So just getting to know your professors and kind of building that relationship with them. And they can help you out a lot.