Journalism Graduate Students Land Big Stories, Earn Awards and Launch New Projects

The School of Journalism’s graduate program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism is having a terrific year so we thought we’d share some highlights.

One goal for our students is that they develop a professional portfolio of published or broadcast work while at UM. This advances their network of peer and professional contacts and teaches the art of story pitching and the grace of completing what you set out to do.

This fall, first-year grad students found success with stories about recycling vegetable scraps for area pig farms, the arrival of chronic wasting disease in Montana and a project to protect cutthroat trout on the South Fork Flathead River.

For the second-year students, fall was simply a hair-on-fire semester in the best possible way:

  • High Country News published the work of our Crown Reporting Project winners this fall: Beau Baker’s piece on preparations for the arrival of invasive mussels in Montana, and Olga Kreimer’s overview of a proposed bottled water plant near Flathead Lake.

  • In addition to publishing work in Hakai Magazine and on Montana Public Radio, Matt Blois oversaw production for the launch of Big Bio, a podcast that tells the stories of scientists tackling some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology. He also landed a piece in Civil Eats that looks at meat processing in Montana.

  • A team investigation led Zachariah Bryan to shine a spotlight on the limited help pregnant Montanans get kicking their addiction.

  • Nora Saks’ work in Butte focused on new the use of drones to save wild birds from a toxic stew, as well as pressure by the Trump Administration to speed up work on the nation’s largest Superfund site. Her story on two sisters tackling drug use on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation that aired on Montana Public Radio and NPR’s Weekend Edition last spring won the “award of excellence” from the Broadcast Education Association.

  • Videographer Jayme Dittmar is poised to defend her professional project, Paving Tundra, this winter. She already won the Innovator Award from Planet Forward from a related side project, “Redefining Progress.” Watch for Paving Tundra at a film festival near you in 2018.

Alums have been busy, too:

  • At Montana Public Radio, Nicky Ouellet has continued to cover the Flathead Lake Region like snow covers Glacier National Park. She led national coverage about a small Montana firm that won a huge contract to restore power to Puerto Rico, and she completed a fabulous podcast, Subsurface, about invasive mussels.

  • Kevin Dupzyk is producing the Popular Mechanics Podcast in his role as senior assistant editor at the magazine.

  • Recent graduate Madison Dapcevich is off to San Francisco where she’ll work at I F’ing Love Science as a science writer.

Correction: This article has been edited to clarify that Nicky Ouellet led national coverage on the Puerto Rico power shortage but credit for breaking the story goes to reporter Yanira Hernández Cabiya at Caribbean Business.


The School of Journalism’s graduate program is a hands-on, skills-based program that puts students in the field reporting on issues affecting society and the natural world.

Applications for Fall 2018 are accepted through April 15. Learn more and find out how to apply here.

The master’s program is an advanced curriculum for applicants with undergraduate degrees in journalism, environmental and earth sciences, environmental studies or natural resources. We also seek applicants with professional experience in journalism, the natural resource industries and environmental nonprofit organizations.

Alumni Spotlight: KREM 2 News’ Leilah Langley

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

This installment spotlights Leilah Langley, 2002, the assistant news director for KREM 2 News in Spokane, Wash.

(This Q&A has been edited slightly.)

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

Answer: I joined the program thinking I would be a reporter and/or anchor. I went through most of the program thinking that. However I started to notice I was a better fit for producing when I took a producing class taught by Denise Dowling my last semester. Then I took a producing internship at KREM. I’m very detail oriented. I like to be in control and quite frankly, I’m shy. So a career in producing and then management was much better fit than being on the air.

Can you describe an average day on the job?

I manage the day-to-day operations in the newsroom. I help assign the content for daily shows and digital platforms. I help the staff brainstorm new and innovative storytelling techniques to help make the audience experience at KREM memorable. I approve and critique scripts and articles. I react quickly with staffing and content decisions in breaking news and severe weather situations. I plan big stories and even coverage.

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

I had all the basics and a working knowledge of how to get newscasts on the air, which helped me transition easily into an intense producing training internship. I also had a realistic expectation of what to expect. I knew the workload would be big, I knew the hours would be bad, and I knew the pay wouldn’t be high. That all sounds rather negative, but as a news manager now I’m shocked at how many people come out of college not getting any advice about what the “real world” will be like.

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

Broadcast writing skills. I learned a lot of good grammar basics my sophomore and junior years.

What do you think makes the J-School special? 

My fondest memories are of the old 730 Eddy house. Sure, I’m a little jealous of the new building, but there was something about that cute little basement newsroom. We left the Journalism School with character, and that comes in handy in the scrappy news business.


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

You have to have a passion for learning and you have to be naturally curious. If those things don’t come naturally to you it may not be a good fit. It’s also a difficult political climate to be a journalist. Don’t let that scare you. I believe in keeping my head held high and working for the people of my community. Don’t engage the haters, just do your job.

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

I see myself helping to transform local news into a more fun to watch and engaging product for the audience. I’m proud to be part of a generation that gets to rewrite the way we do things. No one wants to watch a newscast straight out of 1995. We are changing and it’s fun to be part of it.


Meet the Professors: Lee Banville

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 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 Associate Professor Lee Banville.

Lee joined the University of Montana faculty in 2009 after 13 years at PBS NewsHour, where he was editor-in-chief of the Online NewsHour.

With a background in web and digital reporting and social media, Lee teaches courses that include digital and web reporting, audience engagement.

Because he teaches the introductory media history and literacy course (J100), he’s often the first professor students have when they enter the J-School. We’re all lucky for that because Lee makes learning just about anything fun and interesting.

And yes, that includes Media Law, which he also teaches, focusing on access and open meeting laws. Lee also co-teaches election reporting every two years.