It may be summer, but the UM J School is hard at work.

The UM campus is quiet, but our students and faculty are on the air and online with important new stories.

The Meth Effect is taking a fresh look at the resurgence of meth in Montana.  Their web site is live at metheffect.com, and their audio pieces will be part of a special presentation on Montana Public Radio Sunday, May 21 at 6pm MDT.  These pieces are the product of a unique collaboration between Professors Jule and Lee Banville, and MTPR.

For more than a quarter century, the J School’s Native News Honors Project has produced pathbreaking journalism about life on Montana’s reservations.  The latest issue hits the web at midnight, May 19 with an in-depth examination of the Indian Health Service.  The website is fully of photos and videos from the team’s multimedia efforts. Those who prefer hard copy should look for our insert in the May 20 edition of the Missoulian and the Billings Gazette.

The J School’s Montana Journalism Abroad project continues this year, as 14 students accompany Professors Nadia White and Denise Dowling to Japan.  Their website  is already bursting with great content that sets up their big story: an examination of the effort to resettle areas contaminated by the nuclear accident, earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan on March 11, 2011. For the next three weeks, the Japan team will be working on additional stories, and they will be posted to the website.  Learn more about the trip from their YouTube video. 

If all of that great journalism doesn’t fill up your free hours, get ready for the latest installment of the Crown Reporting Project.  Graduate students Olga Kreimer and Beau Baker are teaming up with veteran journalists Laura Krantz and Michelle Niijhuis to report out two new stories about environmental issues in the Crown of the Continent region.  I’ve been sworn to silence, so I can’t tell you what they are working on.  But follow us online and look for their work in High Country News, our partners this year.  The UM Journalism School  is proud of all of our summer projects, and we will be bragging about them all summer.

Crown Project Reporter Tracks Mussels

Invasive mussels are aquatic hitchhikers.  They have spread across the U.S. by attaching to watercraft and getting a ride to lakes and reservoirs.  Boat inspection stations like this one in Ravalli, MT are an essential firewall to prevent further infestation, but the hours are long and staffing is thin.  Crown Project reporter Beau Baker hung out at the Ravalli station, which is just south of Flathead Lake.  Listen to his audio postcard at our Crown Tumblr site.Ravalli fixed

Doing your Job, Doing the Right Thing

JAMIE

(@umjschool grad student James Drysdale just returned from a tour of China with the Montana Repertory Theater.  He is assembling a film about their production of the classic American drama “To Kill A Mockingbird” in two Chinese cities.)

On my last night in Beijing before heading for Chongqing, my unique roll as an embedded journalist on this cultural exchange to China came into sharp relief. The actors had been gearing up for their only two-show day of the tour, and they were working tirelessly to train three Chinese middle-schoolers who would join them in the performances.

I was busy talking to students who would be in the audience, and was lining up interviews for post-show impressions and takeaways. It was going to be an important afternoon and evening for me in terms of capturing interesting aspects to the stories I was pursuing.

Then suddenly everything changed. With ten minutes until showtime, it became apparent that one of our actors, Danielle Sather, was so ill that she needed to be rushed to the hospital. The cast had no time to prepare for her absence. Everything would have to be done on the fly. Her dialogue would need to be filled in and her character’s role in advancing the story would have to be absorbed by others. This all happened quickly, with young Chinese boys on stage who had never acted in front of an audience in their lives.

“What a story,” I thought to myself. There was only one problem: with everyone else on our trip intricately tied to a production that was already being pushed to the limit, there was only one person left to go with Dani to the hospital. Me. It was immediately clear that my role had changed in an instant from that of observer to participant.  There was no time to discuss, and it was an easy choice.

The hours I spent with Dani in the hospital were a turning point in my trip in terms of my relationship to the cast. I was suddenly part of the family, and not just some random onlooker. Journalistically, the jury is still out on how this change will positively or negatively affect my ability to tell this story. But personally, it has been a positive shift, and allowed me to engage with the cast on a more intimate level.