A break from reporting on solstice evening

UM J-school grad student Celia Talbot Tobin of the Crown Reporting Project takes a break from chasing sources in British Columbia and shares some of her experiences in this dispatch from Team 1.

Most people will tell you that to experience the Crown of the Continent in the summer is to experience it in all its glory. And after my first extended stay nestled in its depths, I can wholeheartedly agree — or at least easily imagine it to be true, not having been there in other months to compare. The landscape flaunted a cloak of deep emeralds, cloudy teals and sapphire blues, a cool chromatic spectrum to contrast the heat of the air. The drone of competing insects was already at full volume by early morning.

One might think that reporting during this time, when life is at its fullest, would be a fairly simple and accessible task. And certainly there are benefits to working during the height of activity. But in the weeks leading up to my recent visit to the small town of Fernie in British Columbia, I was awakened to the complications of producing a story on the outdoors during its peak season.

Availability of sources in the summer has proven the trickiest. It’s a busy time of year for many people, and if your field revolves around the outdoors it can seem split between vacation time with family and a hyper overload of work when you’re home. Neither is very conducive for volunteering your time to an inquisitive journalist. Accordingly, my trip was postponed as conflicts arose here and there on people’s calendars, and some interviews were sacrificed as it became impossible to plan a visit for which everyone was in town at the same time.

Most disappointing might have been the cancellation of first one, then another flyover of the region. Two pilots who had offered to take me along ended up bowing out of a plan that would have provided a critical birds-eye view of the coalmines that lie at the heart of my story. Come July, I was still working through the details of a third flight attempt, and one that appeared promising, for my second trip up to the area later this summer.

There was, however, an unintended and delightful consequence in delaying my trip: It allowed me to experience the summer solstice surrounded by one of the most breathtaking landscapes on the continent. As I ventured out solstice evening in search of an elevated point from which to photograph the town below (a vista which proved disappointing), I came upon a lake. Sitting at its edge, I allowed myself to turn off the noise in my brain, the constant mental sifting through information and narrative that had been driving my actions the entire trip. It was the first time I sat in silence, not thinking about my story, and listened to the beating heart of the land. A bald eagle came to roost in a nearby tree, and together we watched the light fade from the longest day of the year.

It was worth a hundred cancellations.

Why are we here?

(in which UM J School grade Madelyn Beck ponders the meaning of her existence while competing at the Hearst Journalism Award finals in SF).

Here on day No. 2 in San Francisco for the Hearst Competition, I found out why we’re here.

No, not why human beings exist on planet Earth. I mean, why the Hearst organization spent so much to put journalism students and recents grads in a super-fancy hotel and feed us beautiful, catered food with an open bar. I mean, why fly over 20 of us from across the US to compete for more of their money?

The answer starts with breakfast. I went out with some photojournalists and television reporters to a random, really beautiful place on the other side of San Francisco. I suggested we just walk to the bakery next door, but others insisted this far-away place would be better.

And then sent out an Uber request.

Uber is a ride-share thing where you pay a stranger come pick you up in their personal car. Kind of like a taxi service without the hassle of accreditation. Sketchy aspects aside, the service is generally a good way to get drunk people home and a way to earn money while enjoying long car rides and meeting new people. However, I’d never used it and was skeptical.

Upon our safe Uber delivery, I realized that venturing out was a good choice. And then I bit into my Thai curry-flavored apricot and coconut scone. I then decided it was a great choice.

That night, the entire crew of print and broadcast contestants came together for dinner. There, we were told why each individual was selected from a total pool of over a thousand applicants. From exposing rampant heroine abuse to photographing tears in the eyes of Michael Brown’s mother in Ferguson, we simply told stories in extraordinary ways.

That was when I realized why we needed to be there. Yes, our work deserves recognition, but that’s not why. We needed to be there because by seeing the best of the best and realizing that we’re so similar in age and ability, we challenge each other to do even better.

From taking a new angle on old issues to dragging each other out on exciting Uber explorations, us great journalists expand each other’s worlds and inspire change.

For me, they’ve shown me the best, and I intend to use it to tell great stories.

Well, that and get occasional delicious scones.

Madelyn Beck

How I almost missed the plane that could take me to my first big break in journalism…

(Recent UM J School grad Madelyn Beck is on her way to the national finals of the Hearst Journalism Awards.  Here’s an update on her travels to the San Francisco event.  She shows true journalistic ingenuity as she overcomes obstacles at the airport.)

 There’s a point in every great journey, just after taking off, when any sane person looks around and thinks: “What the hell have I done?”

Breaking into a cold sweat, the realization comes that you’re too far to go back. For me, it came shortly after the plane took off from the Bozeman airport.

The day had started with a bang after I nearly missed my first flight. Apparently, printing a boarding pass for Alaskan Airlines is actually impossible within 45 minutes of boarding time. It’s not like I over-slept. If anything I under-slept as I got up at 3 a.m. after tossing and turning most of the night as the drunk people upstairs kept pumping music and arguing over dumb things.

In my ignorance, I had merely decided to let my sister sleep until 5:15 before forcing her to drive me to the airport for my 6:10 a.m. flight.

One woman from the United Airlines told me that since I missed the time limits and hadn’t checked my large bag, I was out of options and would have to wait. I asked if there was anything at all I could do. Anything. At all. She said no, and if it was with her airlines, she’d make me wait. So, I fought the man and ran upstairs to security.

Once upstairs, I pulled some technological magic. I used my phone to take a picture of a PDF of the ticket I had saved on my laptop’s desktop. Then, using my phone’s picture of the barcode, I was somehow able to scan in.

But what about the massive bag? Well, luck and kindness helped there. I threw out my shampoo and conditioner, acted really panicked, and they just let it slide (though I did end up having to pay a checking fee at the gate…it was a really big bag).

And then the plane took off, and I was faced with the fact that I was going to San Francisco by myself to compete as a radio broadcaster for a possible $5000 prize. All the stupid mistakes I had ever made popped into my head and I thought: “Man, why am I here? These guys who are rooting for me are going to be so disappointed when I fail. I couldn’t even make it to the airport on time!”

But, once I actually got into the city and had to work out the subway system and the hotel room and finding food completely on my own, I realized that I had as good a chance as anyone else. And hey, if nothing else, it’s a free trip to San Francisco.