Award-winning Editor to Deliver Annual Pollner Lecture

Melissa Mccoy profile picMelissa McCoy, a former deputy managing editor of the Los Angeles Times, will deliver the University of Montana School of Journalism’s annual T. Anthony Pollner Lecture on Monday, Oct. 3. Her topic: “What the Media Communicate About Mental Illness.”

The lecture, which is free to the public, will begin at 7 p.m. in the University Center Theater. McCoy said she is interested in why violence is often a theme in news coverage “when people coping with a mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of crimes rather than the perpetrators.”

She believes the media are making some progress in how such stories are covered but need to do better.

“What the news media tell us about mental illness is getting a bit deeper,” McCoy said, “but most stories are still reactive. By that I mean we chase the news when there’s violence, but we generate relatively few stories about how mental illness affects tens of millions of ordinary Americans every year.”

McCoy spent 17 years at the LA Times, advancing from metro copy editor to a deputy managing editor supervising 250 journalists. In addition to overseeing the paper’s award-winning copy desks, graphics department and researchers, she frequently was the final editor for major projects, a number of which won Pulitzer Prizes. During her newspaper and magazine career, McCoy also worked as a reporter, copy chief, news editor and assignment editor.

Since leaving the LA Times in 2009, McCoy has been a media consultant, writer and editor. She was a visiting faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, where she had previously served as an ethics fellow. At UM she teaches a seminar that focuses on reporting and writing about sensitive topics that include rape, murder, suicide and mental illness.

McCoy is the school’s 17th Pollner Professor, a professorship created in 2001 in memory of T. Anthony Pollner, a UM journalism alumnus and a dedicated staff member at the Montana Kaimin who died two years after graduating. The Pollner endowment allows the school to bring a distinguished journalist to campus each semester to teach a course and to mentor students at the Kaimin.

Founded in 1914, the School of Journalism is now in its second century of preparing students to think critically, act ethically and communicate effectively. To learn more about the School of Journalism, visit http://jour.umt.edu/.

J-School Students Set to Premiere Documentary Examining Autism in Montana

Every Monday morning, adjunct professor John Twiggs started class with a countdown, reminding the students how much time remained for them to finish their documentary. That number started with 15 weeks, but on the first day of finals week, the countdown hit the final 48 hours of production.

A student films the subjects of the documentary in the behind the scenes photo.
J-School students work closely with their subjects as seen in this behind the scenes pic. Photo by Jana Wiegand.

The documentary, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” will premiere at the University Center Theater on Friday, May 13, at 7 p.m. as part of the Senior Showcase. However, the rest of the state will get to see the show on MontanaPBS on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m.

Upper-level journalism students have the option to take the Student Documentary Unit every spring semester. However, this year’s group started researching ideas for the show back in December. A class vote revealed an overwhelming decision to pursue the topic of autism and how it impacts the lives of Montanans.

After more research, the students noticed a significant gap in autism care as individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) transitioned from school-age to adulthood. With the number of individuals being diagnosed with autism on the rise, they realized that the stress placed on the limited number of current care options for adults with ASD was ill-prepared to meet the needs of the incoming wave of adults on the spectrum.

“I want to do something that’s worthwhile, and I feel we have a good group to do it,” said senior Peter Riley, the director of the show. “Everybody knows we have each other’s back as a team, and everyone’s really stepped up and come to the table with some fresh ideas and some talents.”

The students traveled across Montana to follow the lives of four families, each with a child on the autism spectrum. As a class, they chose their main characters to reflect a diversity of ages, abilities, finances and access to care. The class spent quality time at home with their characters, attending therapy sessions and time at the workplace too. Students also interviewed autism specialists to shed insight on autism itself, the diversity care options and relevant legislation in Montana.

Once the group made the transition from shooting to editing, Twiggs told the class, “It’s time to take a hard look at what you do and don’t have. Get everything on the table that shows your best moments.”

Since then, the students have rewritten their scripts and finessed the edited footage to tell a story that speaks to the unique situations of each family, while also capturing the overarching struggles that unites them all.

“It’s definitely the most worthwhile thing I’ve done at the J-school,” said Andy Anderson, the director of photography. “It’s also been the hardest project I’ve worked on, without a doubt, but I think we have a really good pairing of people with skills. We just have killer writers and awesome videographers.”

The majority of the members in Student Doc will graduate the day after the documentary premieres on campus.

“I think Doc is a wonderful experience. We may not get the chance to do this thing for quite a while, if ever again, so let’s step out strong and leave with a product that we can be proud of,” Riley said. “I’m so thankful to be surrounded by a group of individuals that thinks that way too.”

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Check out the 30-second and 60-second trailers for the documentary on the Facebook page, “Aging Out: Autism in Montana,” which will also air on MontanaPBS in the days leading up to the television premiere. Students also plan to post behind-the-scenes footage from the making the documentary, providing exclusive insight to their process and the families they followed.

The complete documentary will be available via the MontanaPBS website after the scheduled air date on Tuesday, May 24, at 8 p.m. Past documentaries from the Student Documentary Unit can also be accessed from their website.

By Jana Wiegand

Staying Curious: NPR Host Susan Stamberg on Becoming a Veteran Journalist

On a Sunday afternoon in Paris, while walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, Susan Stamberg came across a woman holding a sign that said “Hello! Let’s Talk.” Stamberg sat down with her, and when 81-year-old Miss Lily discovered she worked as a radio correspondent for NPR, she asked, “Well, don’t you want to interview me?”

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“Do lobsters want to fly? Of course,” Stamberg said, relating the tale to the audience at UM, gathered for the School of Journalism’s annual Dean Stone Lecture. Each spring the UM School of Journalism honors its founder, Dean Arthur Stone, and current journalism students with a two-night celebration featuring a guest lecturer followed by an awards banquet.

Miss Lily told Stamberg about a certain loneliness that she saw in people that she hoped to ease by getting more strangers to talk to each other. As a journalist, Stamberg related to Miss Lilly’s mission because she always tried to take her interviews with people to a more intimate level and advised students to do the same.

“Don’t accept ‘fine’ as an answer. Tell me what’s really happening. Go deeper,” Stamberg said. “After talking with Miss Lily I felt like I was walking on joy. It was such a serendipitous experience. I look for her every time I’m back in Paris.”

Stamberg started working at NPR in 1971 as a tape editor, but started hosting All Things Considered the following year. In the US, she became the first woman to anchor a nightly news broadcast fulltime. “It was a time when anything was possible at NPR,” Stamberg said. “We were still inventing ourselves, so we got to do everything.”

Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk.
Susan Stamberg took questions from the audience after her talk. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Dean of the UM School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, worked with Stamberg at NPR for many years, often sharing a ride to the office together. “Susan, for me, and for her followers, led the pathway out of a stiffer kind of journalism,” he said. “She showed that you can be a good journalist and be passionate, without sacrificing your objectivity.”

Stamberg also shared stories about her work with professor Jule Banville’s Advanced Audio class earlier that day. Her favorite pieces covered individuals’ personal achievement, “especially in the face of vigorous challenges.”

“Students asked her about her curiosity, how she keeps it sharp after all these years of reporting and interviewing,” Banville said. “She told them, ‘it’s not so much about style as it is about curiosity.’ I wrote it on the board because I thought it was so insightful.”

Later, Stamberg joked, “I am getting worse at remembering things, but I guess that’s why God invented Google.”

Yet having now worked at NPR for 45 years, she credited her genuine curiosity to the fact that she’s a life-long learner. After growing up as an only child, Stamberg also maintained her desire to reach out to new people, understand and befriend them.

“Susan’s an extremely diligent listener,” Larry Abramson said. “She can show the students how important it is in broadcast, and in journalism in general, to be a good listener.”

Stamberg took the time to listen to parts of Banville’s class’s brand new podcast series, Rest Stop Radio, offering feedback and sharing in their excitement.

“I’d always heard about how lovely and gracious she was, and now I know that’s the truth,” Banville said. “She made a huge impression on my students and on me, too. We were so lucky to get to know her.”

By Jana Wiegand