Welcome Back from Dean Abramson

Don Anderson Hall building exterior
Don Anderson Hall, home of the J-School

Boy, what a summer it’s been. Could there be any doubt that we need caring, smart journalists now more than ever?

As we prepare to open the doors for another year at the UM J-School, I keep asking myself that question. Just take one news story as an example: we have a presidential election before us between two people who seem to have a very troubled relationship with the truth. How could the average citizen possibly scrutinize statements by Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, without professional help from reporters, editors and researchers? Reporters remain, despite the turmoil in our industry, our election ghostbusters: they are uniquely qualified to train their ray guns on statements like Trump’s assertion that the real unemployment rate is closer to 42 percent than 5 percent. And we still need someone to jump on distortions like Hillary’s insistence that the FBI Director called her statements about her email server “truthful.”

While the need for good reporting remains clear, the way to pay for it is not—the crystal ball remains cloudy on that point. As comedian John Oliver pointed out recently, even he ruthlessly rakes through the work of journalists in the search for joke material, without signing up for a subscription. Oliver’s appeal to recognize the work of journalists got a lot of play, but I predict it will have zero impact on the financial plight of the news biz. That’s because pity is not going to help us make news profitable again. Only innovation and hard work will.

So, as we start the year I will present our students with this simple challenge: come help us save the world from a flood of lies. It’s our job.

By Larry Abramson

Dogged Reporter, Peregrine Frissell Wins Hearst Award For Athletic Investigation

Montana Kaimin web editor and reporter, Peregrine Frissell, had never written a sports story before when he started investigating UM’s controversial compliance efforts with NCAA regulations this past October. After being published in the Kaimin on November 4th, 2015, his story, “Unsportsmanlike Conduct,” won 7th in the Hearst Awards competition for Sports Reporting.

photo of Peregrine Frissell holding a small monkey.
Frissell takes a moment to pose for a photo while reporting abroad in Nepal. Photo by Peregrine Frissell.

“Peregrine did a great job of looking at athletics on the UM campus beyond just the scoreboard,” said Nadia White, faculty advisor to the Kaimin. “His story looked at NCAA rules and regulations and examined what those mean for student athletes.”

Frissell’s research involved digging into those regulations and interviewing UM athletic officials and the NCAA representatives to whom they report any infringements. Violations included anything from coaches recruiting high school athletes too aggressively to convictions of current athletes who commit off-the-field incidents. Frissell said talking to public representatives of those departments was challenging because they wanted to keep control of the information they told him during interviews.

Kevin Van Valkenburg, the fall 2015 Pollner professor and advisor to the Kaimin, said, that a lot of journalists would have dropped the story when they heard officials use the term ‘minor infractions’. “Don’t let the administration convince you it’s no big deal. Ask the right questions,” he said. “UM mis-reported and mis-understood the facts, but Peregrine understood the bigger picture here, and he pursued that to explain it in context.”

“I needed every minute I got,” Frissell said, since he only had two weeks to get the story to print. “I’m really thankful to get recognized.”

Yet Frissell has plenty of reporting experience, both in Montana and abroad. He’s been a Global Leadership Initiative fellow at UM and completed studies in the UK and Thailand, as well as working as a reporting intern for the Nepali Times. “I arrived a month after the earthquake and spent much of my time outside of Katmandu, covering earthquake recovery,” he said. “The earthquake was tragic, but I enjoyed my experience there.”

Back on the UM campus, Frissell has worked with the Montana Journalism Review (MJR) as both an editor and a reporter, and he’s now pursing political stories on the Crow Indian Reservation in Montana as part of the class Native News.

“Peregrine is a dogged reporter. He’s critical and curious, and his instincts are spot on,” Nicky Ouellet said. As a graduate student, she’s overseen his work at MJR and now for Native News. “He’s the type of reporter an editor hopes for—capable of following a tip to create a deeply reported and contextualized story. I’ve enjoyed working with him and can’t wait to see what he pops out in the future.”

Scheduled to complete his journalism degree in May, Frissell said he wants to report in the US for a couple of years and then go back abroad. “I’m still waiting to hear back about potential jobs and internships,” he said.

However, Van Valkenburg has high hopes for Frissell’s future. “He reads a lot and is interested in things of public interest and importance,” he said. “Peregrine will make a great investigative reporter.”

Catch the latest news updates with Peregrine Frissell via Twitter.

By Jana Wiegand

Montana Kaimin Editors Explore Data Journalism In Denver

Montana native, Kayla Robertson, originally wanted to go out of state for college, but her tour of the UM J-school with Denise Dowling helped change her mind. “Denise showed me the Kaimin office, and I thought, I need to work here,” Robertson said.

True to word, Robertson has since become the Montana Kaimin’s design editor and has shifted her attention from print to web design. Robertson and fellow Kaimin colleague, Peregrine Frissell, recently attended a data journalism conference in Denver, Colorado to learn more about this subset of reporting.

head shots of Robertson and Frissell

The Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) sponsors a program called the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR). These two organizations share the mission of fostering excellence in journalism, and NICAR specifically focuses on data journalism by making government datasets available to journalists and holding annual conferences that support their community of reporters.

In order to attend the 2016 conference, Frissell and Robertson needed funding, so they pitched their joint goals to the Dean of the School of Journalism and to the Provost. Robertson felt confident about their pitch because of Frissell’s experience as a hard news reporter and her own specialization on interactive graphics.

“Kayla and Peregrine have taken the initiative to build their skills in the area of data analysis and visualization, key areas for future students,” Dean Larry Abramson said. “These students serve as role models for others, and they help steer our curriculum in the right direction. I was glad to be able to back their research trip, thanks to the generous support of our donors.”

Faculty advisor of the Kaimin, Nadia White, said she’s glad Frissell and Robertson were able to attend the conference. “They learned the most important thing we can teach,” she said. “You have to learn how to learn and to seek what you want to know.”

For Robertson, learning the technical skills proved to be most valuable. Programs like JavaScript, which helps visualize data and makes things “look pretty” on a website, connected all of her interests as both a writer and a designer. At the conference, Robertson said, “I learned a ton of hard news skills, and now I can go in any direction I want from here.”

As the Kaimin’s web editor, Frissell preferred database management to design. “The conference better equipped me to work in a newsroom and understand the work that goes into creating these pieces,” he said. “There are people out there that dedicate their lives to doing this.”

Since Robertson and Frissell were some of the only college students attending the IRE conference, they used that opportunity to network with representatives of major media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Buzzfeed.

Frissell graduates in May, but Robertson still has another year to finish her journalism degree. This summer she will participate in the Missoula-to-Berlin international reporting trip, and she hopes to produce some maps and infographics along with the written stories.

However, Robertson’s already started to use the skills she picked up at the IRE conference for her work at the Kaimin. She developed interactive graphics for the current edition’s feature story, “The Ides of April,” by Hunter Pauli, and with help from Niklaas Dumroese.

As the Kaimin puts more effort into its online stories, Robertson will shift more attention from print to online design. “We can do some cool stuff,” Robertson said. “It’s the same great journalism, but we’re making it available to more people.”

Follow the latest news with Peregrine Frissell on Twitter, and stay up to date with Kayla Robertson’s design projects on her website.

By Jana Wiegand