Spring Pollner Professor Deborah Potter Teaches Students About Journalism and Trust

Spring 2018 Pollner professor Deborah Potter. Photo by Tate Samata.

Deborah Potter is sure of one thing: Public trust in journalism is disintegrating rapidly, and journalists cannot simply sit back and wait for something to change.

“There’s a quote by journalist Carl Bernstein that says something similar to: ‘All we have to do is our best work.’ I disagree,” said Potter, the 2018 spring T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor. “In the world we’re currently living in, it’s not enough to simply put your head down and do good work as a journalist. We have to be deliberate, proactive. We have to do more to share a message that we deserve trust.”

Potter aims to confront this topic in her spring course “Journalism & Public Trust.” Students will explore the “fake news” phenomenon and the news media’s place in a democratic society. They will also investigate newsroom strategies and learn fact-checking techniques.  Potter hopes all of this will help students explore answers to a fundamental question: “How do we maintain trust, and frankly, regain public trust?”

Potter had wanted to be a writer since high school. But as she watched a contentious national presidential election unfold during her first year of college at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Potter was drawn to broadcast and TV journalism.

When she isn’t teaching, odds are you can find her downhill skiing. Here, Potter is at Lookout Pass with professor Denise Dowling after their first week of spring semester.

“Watching stories happen in real-time gave a completely different sense of a story than reading it in print,” Potter said. “I was drawn to the fluidity.”

Potter spent more than a decade as American Journalism Review’s broadcast news columnist, served as CBS’s White House, State Department and Congressional Correspondent for 13 years, and reported on environmental issues and national politics as a network correspondent for CNN. She has led journalism workshops in the U.S. and around the world, co-authored a journalism textbook, and founded NewsLab, a non-profit journalism resource center in 1998.

Potter sees her professorship at UM as an opportunity to  continue what she refers to as “the second major chunk” of her journalism career, in which she focuses on providing journalism-related education. Previously, Potter was a distinguished visiting professor in journalism ethics at the University of Arkansas, and curated radio and TV seminars as a faculty associate at the Poynter Institute.

The Pollner Professorship was established to honor the memory of Anthony Pollner, a 1999 graduate of the School of Journalism. After Anthony died in an accident in May 2001, his friends and family created an endowment that makes this professorship possible. 

Tate Samata is finishing her fifth and final year at the UM School of Journalism, and will graduate this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and psychology minor. Tate’s journalistic focus is primarily photo and multimedia, but she is also passionate about writing, copy editing and social media. 


Alumni Spotlight: Kellyn Brown, Editor in Chief, Flathead Beacon

Graduates of the University of Montana School of Journalism go on to do great things, in journalism and beyond. They direct newsrooms, report on international issues, photograph history, inform the public on air, start their own businesses, influence public policy, publish books and become leaders in their communities. Here, we spotlight some of our alumni who showcase just how powerful, and versatile, a journalism degree from UM can be. 

This installment spotlights Kellyn Brown, 2002, who founded and runs the award-winning Flathead Beacon.


Question: Where do you work, how long have you been there and what is your job title?

Answer: Editor and chief at the Flathead Beacon since its inception in 2007.

Flathead Beacon: Our Story from Flathead Beacon Productions on Vimeo.

From the Beacon: “The Montana Newspaper Association has named the Flathead Beacon the state’s best large weekly six times since 2009 and the best website four times while also frequently recognizing the publication’s advertising and design excellence. The Columbia Journalism Review highlighted the newspaper and its tradition of excellence in a 2016 feature titled, “Why a Weekly Tabloid Owned by Maury Povich Might Have ‘The Best Newsroom in Montana.’” In 2014, Outside Magazine named the Flathead Beacon one of the “Best Places to Work” in the U.S.”

Was this the type of work you thought you’d be doing when you went to school?

I followed a traditional trajectory: statehouse reporter, cops and courts reporter, city editor, then editor in chief.

Can you describe an average day on the job?

Mostly managing production and sales and coordinating the various departments to get our products out the door in a timely fashion.

What experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for your work?

Kaimin. No question. I learned the most by working my beat and pounding the pavement for the school newspaper. I already had a photography degree before I earned a degree in print journalism. That helped on the visual end.

What are the skills you learned in J-School that you use on a daily basis? In your work? In your life?

Editing and working fast under deadline. Being at once skeptical and a critical thinker.

What do you think makes the J-School special? Do you have an fond memories of your time at the J-School?

The best part about the school are the incredible students who attend it. When I was there it was always a competition to write the next best story. My advisors were also very helpful and steered me to quality internships and my first job out of college.

What do you wish you would have learned at the J-School?

For me, more general coding. I can run the back end of websites, but I wish I understood the platforms a little better coming out of school.

What advice would you give a student just starting out in journalism school? Or, what advice would you give to someone considering journalism school?

The degree still has a lot of value. However, once you write a great story, you need to learn how to deliver it to an ever-changing audience. You have to adapt.

Where do you see yourself career-wise in the future?

Perhaps involved in media. Perhaps not. Working in a newsroom is like bootcamp for life. Everything else looks a little easier after working under the pressure of endless and vigorous deadlines for so many years.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Journalism matters now more than ever in my lifetime.

If you are a graduate who would like to share your experience or know of someone we should spotlight, email Visiting Professor Courtney Cowgill.


Meet the Professors: Kevin Tompkins

We are constantly hearing from students that one of the J-School’s biggest strengths is the dedicated, talented, fearless, experienced, fun, doors-are-always-open faculty.

The students in our Social Media and Engagement class set out to tell that story via Instagram. Over the coming weeks, we will highlight these stories, which illustrate the personalities, philosophies and experience of our top-notch faculty. This week, we give you the newest member of the faculty, Visiting Assistant Professor Kevin Tompkins.

Kevin teaches intermediate videography and intermediate directing. Kevin says, “I think the one thing I’ve noticed in my first semester-and-a-half that I’ve been here is that I want the students to be confident and feel comfortable doing what they’re doing, because I think that’s going to make you better in whatever you do.”



Other profiles in the #meettheprofs series: 

Jule Banville

Denise Dowling