University of Montana Journalism Students Embark on Reporting Trip to Canada

This month, eight University of Montana journalism students will journey through western Canada to report on energy and environmental issues, including a proposed oil pipeline expansion project that could drastically affect not only our northern neighbor’s energy economy, but that of the United States as well.

After spending the spring semester researching the issues and organizing the logistics, these intrepid student journalists will spend three weeks producing stories across a variety of media. They will focus on energy policy, First Nations perspectives, wildlife conservation and other topics related to oil sands development and the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which was recently purchased by the Canadian government in order to fast-track its construction—despite growing opposition from the British Columbia government and many First Nations.

“This is an extraordinarily interesting time for a team of journalists to explore Alberta and B.C.,” said UM adjunct journalism instructor Jeff Gailus, an experienced environmental journalist from Alberta who will lead the group to the oil sands and then along the route of the Trans Mountain Pipeline to Vancouver. “There’s a pitched battle going on between the Alberta, British Columbia, and federal governments that will have a significant impact on Canada’s economy, and perhaps even whether, or at least for how long, Canada can continue to provide the U.S. with so much of it’s imported oil.”

Albertans just elected a new conservative government that has declared “war” on anyone who opposes or criticizes Alberta’s oil-based economy, and has threatened to cut off the supply of oil and gas to B.C. if it doesn’t green light the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which is slated to transport oil sands crude to terminals in southwest B.C. and northwest Washington state. This is diametrically opposed by the B.C. government and dozens of First Nations, which have said the pipeline project will never proceed. Meanwhile, the federal government owns the pipeline and is also trying to figure out how to honor its Paris Accord commitments to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions by two percent annually.

“There’s a lot of conflict surrounding this proposed pipeline expansion, and several important factors will determine if, or whether, the project goes forward or not,” said group member Kevin Trevellyan, an environmental journalism graduate student. “That’s part of what makes this trip so appealing.”

The trip is the latest edition of the Montana Journalism Abroad course, which allows students to sharpen on-the-ground reporting skills in foreign locales, where complex, meaningful stories are just waiting to be discovered.

The existing Trans Mountain Pipeline, which begins in Alberta, is one of several pipelines that send 2.2 million barrels of oil to the U.S. each year—good for 40 percent of the country’s imports. If approved, the $6.8-billion expansion would increase the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels of oil to 890,000 barrels per day.

But the controversial oil sands that feed the pipeline have been criticized as dirty, carbon-intensive, and cost-inefficient, especially in the age of growing concern about the social and economic impacts of climate change. Additional development could further threaten the health of Canadian communities and wildlife surrounding oil sands operations, which is why many First Nations members are fighting the expansion, which would cross their traditional lands.

Other First Nations want to invest in the project as a means to spur economic benefits.

Oil is central to Alberta’s identity. Proponents, including new Premier Jason Kenney, believe expansion of the Trans Mountain Pipeline is vital to producing additional jobs and economic benefit.

All of which is to say the project presents a unique opportunity for students to follow their reporting instincts across a wide range of relevant subjects.

“The issues surrounding the proposal are almost limitless,” Trevellyan said, “and they present a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves and grow as journalists.”

Learn more about this year’s international reporting class and their work at Also follow @northexposure19 on Instagram and Northern Exposure Reporting Project on Twitter to receive day-to-day updates of their progress through Canada.

Though this year’s class needn’t travel far to find their stories, Montana Journalism Abroad has taken students around the world. Former groups have reported on South Korea’s urban centers, investigated the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve in India, followed the refugee crisis in Germany, and studied the aftermath of the earthquake and nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan.



2019 Graduation and Senior Showcase

Join us as we celebrate our 2019 graduates:

Senior Showcase and Student Documentary Premiere
Friday, May 3, 5 p.m.
University Center Theatre

A showcase for our graduating seniors. See their capstone projects and share their successes. The evening will include the screening premiere of this year’s student documentary, “Trash Talk: Montana Recycling Challenge.”

School of Journalism Graduation
Saturday, May 4, 12 p.m.
Music Recital Hall

We can’t wait to celebrate the class of 2019!

Students: Bring as many guests as you’d like and just show up, fill out a blue card and that’s it! You graduate! (Well, after you’ve done all the tireless work to get here, that is.)

Dowling Wins National Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for Radio Documentary

Denise Dowling, long-time reporter, journalism professor and two-time interim dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism, has won a prestigious national award from the Society of Professional Journalists for her radio documentary, “Alex, Not Amy: Growing Up Transgender in the Rural West.”

Dowling’s piece, which originally aired on Montana Public Radio, was also named a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award winner this week by the Radio Television Digital News Association. That means it is now under consideration for a National Murrow Award as well. Earlier this month, the documentary was also named a finalist for an E.B. Craney Award from the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation in the Radio Non-Commercial Program of the Year category.

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi Awards recognize the best in professional journalism in categories covering print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics, online and research. This year’s winners will be honored in a ceremony in June in Washington D.C.

Dowling’s documentary follows the story of 10-year-old Alex O’Neill, who knew he was a boy when he was a toddler, as he changes his gender legally and socially. Listeners get to know Alex and his family as they navigate issues like which swim team Alex competes on or which bathroom he uses while he’s at school. The story looks at the policy, history, mental health concerns and trends around transgender youth. But, it’s about much more too — it’s a story about family, identity, community and belonging.

Regional stations also picked up the documentary and one producer, Skip Wood, at Prairie Public Radio in North Dakota called the piece, “Top notch. Heartwarming. Positive. Important.”

Dowling said she first became interested in the challenges of being young and transgender when one of her students shared the roadblocks he met on campus when transitioning.

“When I began reporting, I found it remarkable just how many young people, and their families, were facing similar paths,” she said. “Alex, his parents and siblings were incredibly gracious to allow me into their lives to document his transition. They welcomed me into some of their most private moments as I

followed Alex and his journey over three years. I learned so much from them and saw first-hand how family support makes all the difference in a transgender child’s mental health.”

For Dowling, the story was about documenting Alex’s story, but also sharing valuable information with the public about the issue.

“I also gained knowledge from speaking to researchers, doctors, educators and attorneys about transgender youth. The documentary shares that information in hopes that other families can find help in supporting transgender youth,” she said. “And I hope it opens all our eyes to this hidden population and what we can do to help transgender kids find their way to a successful future.”

The piece was made possible through funding from the School of Journalism and the University of Montana’s Faculty Research Fund, with special thanks to Montana Public Radio.