J-School Grad Student Wins Best In Festival For Radio Piece

photo of Ouellet working in the studio
Photo by Shanti Johnson.

From the blue lights and glow-sticks at The Great Northern Bar in Whitefish, Montana, graduate student Nicky Ouellet followed a band backstage to understand the mission behind their music. Ouellet’s subsequent radio story, “An ‘80s Cover Band With Global Dreams,” recently won Best in Festival in the student news competition for the Broadcast Education Association’s Festival of Media Arts.

“This is one of my first audio pieces,” Ouellet said. “For it to receive national recognition like this is really overwhelming, and I’m really honored.”

The story emerged from Assistant Professor Jule Banville’s Advanced Audio Skills class, when Banville prompted her students to incorporate music into a radio piece. “I wanted mine to be more than just a story about a band,” Ouellet said. “And the New Wave Time Trippers immediately came to mind.”

While the band came together for their mutual love for ‘80s music, they also wanted to find a way to be able to live off their “Rocky Horror Picture Show” style performances. Members of the New Wave Time Trippers told Ouellet that they hoped to turn these occasional night gigs into a full-time job by playing at corporate events and landing a regular show in Las Vegas.

“I thought it was a really interesting combination of the artsy, but also the business savvy,” Ouellet said.

For her, capturing a sense of place was equally as important as recording the essence of the Time Tripper’s music. Ouellet plugged a Marantz kit directly into the bar’s sound system to record clean copies of the songs and set up a secondary recorder to capture the crowd’s experience. After taping two of their shows, one in Whitefish and one in Missoula, Ouellet spent hours listening to the footage, recording her own narration and trying to keep the story under five minutes.

“Most of the challenges were really just keeping it tight and clean and focused,” Ouellet said. “That’s where Jule, my professor, came in and helped me kill all of my darlings, which was a really tough process because there were a lot of good ones.”

“I loved that story, and it will make you happy if you listen to it,” Banville said. “It had this signature mix where Nicky blended her writing and narration with interviews, and of course, great songs.”

The intimacy of radio originally drew Ouellet to the medium. She said the power of each story to delve inside someone else’s head made her change the way she saw the world. “You kind of lose sense of the thing directly in front of you, and it’s like this whole world of your mind and that of the story-teller are blended,” Ouellet explained.

Since the Time Tripper piece, she and Banville have been working closely together on Ouellet’s professional portfolio, which she will defend in May to receive her master’s degree in journalism. Her portfolio includes both written and audio pieces, examining how Native Americans manage natural resources on tribal lands. Ouellet is currently applying to jobs and fellowships for after graduation, and she hopes to find a position that lets her continue to use both print and radio.

“I’ve met very few people who work a story like Nicky Ouellet,” Banville said. “She’s going to do amazing things and just kill it as a journalist who can do it all.”

To hear more about Nicky Ouellet’s Best in Festival piece and the production process, watch her video interview on the School of Journalism’s Vimeo account, or click here to read the transcript of her interview. See more of Nicky Ouellet’s work in print and radio on her blog’s portfolio.

Stay up to date with more UM J-School radio pieces by listening to Jule Banville’s podcast series Last Best Stories.

By Jana Wiegand

Nick Ut Reflects On His Career: From Hell To Hollywood

When airplanes flew low over Nick Ut’s home in Los Angeles, California, his house shook and reminded him of the Vietnam War. Born in Long An, Vietnam, Ut started working for the Associated Press (AP) when he was 16 years old, following in the footsteps of his older brother who had recently died while on assignment in 1965. Ut inherited his brother’s cameras and taught himself photography by working in the AP’s darkroom and shooting protests in Saigon.

His editors’ quickly recognized Ut’s skill and sent him into the field to cover the Vietnam War. Ut’s brother’s voice echoed in his head. “I make a picture for you, my brother, to change the war,” Ut said.

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Nick Ut checks the screen as his photos scroll by in front of a large audience at the University of Montana. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Ut spoke at the University of Montana on March 9, as part of the 100-year anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize and to celebrate his 50 years working for the AP. In 1973, just 21 years old, Ut won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. He called the picture “The Terror of War,” but others referred to it as “The Napalm Girl.” Dean of the School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, walked past that picture dozens of times, printed on flyers, in the weeks leading up to Ut’s visit. “Even on the Xerox copy, I’d stop and see something new every day,” Abramson said.

The picture features children running down a road in Trang Bang, Vietnam after a napalm attack on the village. The “Napalm Girl” was Phan Thj Kim Phuc, who ran away from the village, arms outstretched and completely naked. Ut shot several frames of her and the other children fleeing before he understood how badly Phuc had been burned by the attack.

“I saw skin coming off her body,” Ut said. “And I thought, oh my God, I don’t want her to die.”

Ut set his cameras aside and started dumping water on Phuc to try and help her. However, he knew that Phuc and the other children needed professional help, so he transported them in the AP van to the nearest hospital. Since then, Ut said, “I keep looking to help the children.”

He’s sent food and clothing to families in Vietnam impacted by the use of Agent Orange, and he’s kept track of Phuc since the day of the attack on June 8th, 1972. Phuc began to refer to Ut as “Uncle Nick” over the years, as he continued to photograph her skin’s recovery and support her as a current U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. Thanks to Ut’s photos, the two have also spoken to media around the world about the cruelties of war. Ut said, “We met the Queen of England, me and her.”

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Sally Stapelton alerted faculty to Ut’s upcoming birthday. J-school faculty and students celebrated with him after class. Photo by Brontë Wittpenn.

Pollner Professor, Sally Stapleton, and Ut’s friend from their shared time at the AP, said, “He takes ‘No means nothing’ better than anyone I know.”

Ut said he’s “always with camera” to be prepared for unexpected stories. In contrast to his time covering war stories, Ut said, “I tell you, Hollywood, it’s a lot of fun.” Now based in Los Angeles, Ut’s shot court cases involving Michael Jackson, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. He also captured the “Super Blood Moon” of 2015 and unexpected L.A.P.D. street arrests.

For the UM journalism students in the audience, Ut said the key to a great photo evolves from four elements: keep moving, try different angles, keep shooting and capture different emotions.

The next pressing assignment for Ut will be covering Nancy Reagan’s funeral Friday, March 12th.

Stay up-to-date with Ut’s work by following his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

by Jana Wiegand

Calgary Herald Reporter Covers Environmental Controversies

Derworiz standing in front of the audience answering questions.
Derworiz took questions from the audience about climate change and how the Canadian government is addressing the issue. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Over the course of Colette Derworiz’s 17 years at the Calgary Herald, she’s reported on everything from breaking news to enduring social issues, yet her latest beat has taken her out of the city and into the national parks. Now as a senior reporter on environmental issues, Derworiz spoke to the UM School of Journalism about Canada’s changing climate. Her talk reflected more than just the environment, but also the recent changes in Canada’s political and economic climate.

 

After Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election in October 2015, he removed the so-called muzzle on Canadian scientists that previously banned them from speaking about climate change issues and research. Within these last few months, Derworiz said that climate change went from not being considered a dirty word to becoming a major focus for Canada’s government.

“My job is about to get really boring,” Derworiz had joked to a fellow reporter, but as she reflected in her lecture, “The issue is not yet over.”

Associate Professor Nadia White asked Derworiz if scientists had opened their communication with the public since gaining the freedom to talk about climate change. Legally, Derworiz said the government has clearly communicated this new right, but that researchers’ attitudes have yet to change.

Derworiz spoke at the J-school as part of the Marjorie Nichols Lecture series. Nichols graduated from the J-school in 1966 and worked as a journalist in Canada. In 1998, UM awarded Nichols the Distinguished alumni award, and she continued working in the field until her death from cancer in 1991. Nichols was known for her national political commentary, but as an environmental reporter Derworiz has also seen how the political arena can impact natural resources and the policies governing their use.

At the Herald, Derworiz’s editor trusts her to tell a balanced story, and to avoid the common approach of pitting the environment against the economy. Derworiz said, “I think the new government recognizes that if you do things right for the environment, the economy can benefit from that.”

Alberta’s economy, like Montana, relies predominantly on extraction-based industries and is known for the Athabasca oil sands in the northeast part of the province. Starting in 2017, Derworiz said the government’s goal for the nation-wide carbon tax is to help fund cleaner ways to use oil and coal.

“There seems to be a real conversation going on, rather than just rhetoric,” Derworiz said. “But time will tell if the decisions are truly based off science.”

However, Derworiz knows that environmental issues extend beyond the border. Recently she reported on the trans-boundary sage grouse population between Montana and Alberta and a new plan to relocate 40 sage grouse to Alberta, with hopes keeping a more even distribution on both sides of the Canadian border.

Of current interest to Derworiz, are the upcoming talks between Prime Minister Trudeau and President Obama on March 10th. The uncertain future of both countries economies and elections means that Derworiz won’t be running out of stories to cover anytime soon.

By Jana Wiegand