J-School grads contribute to The East Bay Times’ Pulitzer win

Sam Richards and Tor Haugan are both UM J-School alums.

Two UM Journalism School grads played a part in the East Bay Times’ 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting. The East Bay Times, created by the April 2016 consolidation of the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, California), received the award April 10 for its coverage of the “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland in December. Thirty-six people died in the fire, which prompted investigations into why people were allowed to live in that warehouse-turned-artists’ space and why the Oakland Fire Department was slow to respond to a problem it knew existed before the tragic fire.

Tor Haugan, a 2011 J-school grad and video editor for the Bay Area News Group, was the video team coordinator, overseeing the production of our videos about the warehouse fire, starting the day after the blaze. Tor wrote and produced breaking news videos; co-produced the video package that went with the news group’s Dec. 11 story about the last hours of the Ghost Ship; and produced and wrote follow-up videos, including the exclusive about how the owners had known about the dangerous electrical system. He has been with BANG since 2012.

Sam Richards, who graduated from UM’s J-school in 1983, is usually a city hall-general assignment reporter with the East Bay Times in Walnut Creek but worked an editing shift the Saturday morning after the fire, spending seven hours that day continuously handling feeds from reporters in the field for updating the main fire story on the East Bay Times and Mercury News websites, and doing the lead editing for the online first-day story about how family and friends of fire victims were awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones. He also reported that night, interviewing family members of people missing after the fire, and witnesses to the blaze, contributing to both main print stories the next day. He has been with BANG’s predecessor companies since 1992.

J-School part of NSF grant to study food, energy, water

UM Bridge text logoFaculty and graduate students at the School of Journalism are part of a new $3 million science grant focused on innovative approaches to studying the intersection of water, energy and food.

Nadia White, an associate professor of journalism, is part of an interdisciplinary program called “UM BRIDGES: Bridging Divides across the Food, Energy and Water Nexus.” The program will bring 30 new PhD and Master’s students to UM under the 5-year National Science Foundation research training grant.

“This grant challenges scientists to work together to better understand major areas of concern in a future affected by climate change and other dynamic modern forces,” White said. “One of our goals at the J School is to train journalists to understand the nuances and implications of cutting-edge scientific research. This grant helps create access to that inquiry.”

White teaches Story Lab, a science journalism class that pairs students pursing a Master’s degree in environmental science and natural resource journalism with research labs at the University of Montana.

Journalism faculty will teach communication strategies and journalism skills to Ph.D. and Masters degree students in a series of workshops.

Andrew Wilcox, an associate professor in Geosciences, and Laurie Yung, an associate professor in the College of Forestry lead UM BRIDGES.

The program, Yung said, is part of a new way of thinking about graduate education.

“This new approach seeks to train students to connect science and practice, to communicate with a range of audiences, and to move more seamlessly across traditional disciplinary boundaries,” Yung said.

The award puts the University of Montana at the forefront of a broader national initiative to build more sustainable and secure food, energy, and water systems and to develop innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to graduate education.

Missoula to Berlin Update: The Optimistic Generation

Montana Journalism students are shown around the headquarters of Moabit Hilft, where a team provides clothing, food, and basic amenities to refugees as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed.
Montana Journalism students are shown around the headquarters of Moabit Hilft, where a team provides clothing, food, and basic amenities to refugees as they wait for their asylum claims to be processed. Photo by Shane Thomas McMillan.

It’s hard to imagine what’s going on in Germany today. But try this: imagine you live in a country that has the opportunity to accomplish two earth-shattering, history-making achievements in the space of one generation. First, you are able to reunite a country divided completely by the Cold War, and you manage to do this while actually improving your status as the most powerful economy in a united Europe. Second, you have the chance to change your reputation as a creator of refugees (during World War II) to one known for its “Willkommenskultur,” and you attract about a million refugees from all over the planet. And rather than taking on this challenge with a sense of resignation or obligation, you do this with a sense of joy and optimism. It is that sense of hope that is greeting the 18 students from UM’s Journalism School, as they get to know Berlin and seek to understand the refugee crisis.

In the press, many of the stories about the refugee crisis focus on potential problems. And like good journalists, these are the kinds of issues our students are asking about: what if the growing number of Muslim families insist on expressing their culture by demanding accommodations in school? What happens if all these refugees stay, and if more arrive? What if the right wing resistance to immigration grows more powerful? These are the important issues students are probing as they visit refugee camps, immigrant neighborhoods, NGO’s and other groups who have been affected by the new arrivals.

Many immigrants of course are still unsure about whether this can be a permanent home, or whether they will want to stay. But we have already met dozens of Germans who seem convinced that immigration is their chance to do something good, perhaps even great. Young people in particular are seizing this chance to help immigrants and figure out solutions with a sense of creativity and fun that is hard to describe. But we will try to do that in a series of articles, videos, radio pieces and social media posts in the coming weeks.

Follow the group and their adventures on Instagram!

By Larry Abramson