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.
The new edition of Montana Journalism Review tracks Western journalists as national and global events push them past their comfort zones.
From local coverage of refugee resettlement to an experiment in right-wing news immersion, the 2017 issue of MJR scrutinizes how news professionals are responding to growing distrust in the media and ongoing changes in the industry.
Titled “Far From Comfort,” the magazine examines advocacy journalism, emerging business models and gender gaps in sports coverage and news management.
“With the proliferation of fake news and echo chambers, we worked hard to find stories that advance the conversation and show the state of the media in the western United States,” Managing Editor Claire Chandler said.
Work on the 46th edition began last spring, when Editor-in-Chief Henriette Lowisch and Executive Editor Keith Graham, both journalism professors, selected the student staff that puts together the annual magazine founded by J-School Dean Nathaniel Blumberg in 1958.
Over the following seven months, student editors, writers, photographers and designers learned how to problem-solve and work together as they brainstormed story ideas and headlines, recruited contributors, sold ads and got the 68-page book ready for print.
While Art Director Delaney Kutsal envisioned the magazine’s design elements, from color scheme to formatting, senior editors Diana Six, Katy Spence, Dakota Wharry and Bayley Butler handpicked stories and took them through three rounds of editing. Contributors to MJR 2017 include former Missoulian Editor Sherry Devlin and Wyofile reporter Dustin Bleizeffer as well as J-School alums Evan Frost, Tess Haas, Carli Krueger and Hunter Pauli. Current faculty, graduate and undergraduate students also wrote and photographed stories, including staff writer Maddie Vincent and staff photographer Olivia Vanni.
In October, final drafts were sent off to Copy Chief Taylor Crews, who organized her team for the stringent fact-checking and copy-editing process. Designers got their hands on copy in early November and faced a quick two-week turnaround.
In addition to the print magazine released on Dec. 16, 2016, MJR published its stories on its website at mjr.jour.umt.edu, under the leadership of Web Editor Matt Roberts. It also produced Framing a Movement: The Media at Standing Rock, a web documentary orchestrated by Senior Editor Kathleen Stone and funded with the help of the J-School’s Blumberg Fund for Investigative Journalism and UM President Royce Engstrom.
Montana Journalism Review is the product of a journalism capstone course offered each fall. The magazine is financed through ad sales and support from the School of Journalism. The print edition is sent out to 750 subscribers across Montana, the nation and the world.
You know you’re in the right journalism program when, before the semester has even started, you race to campus at 6:55 am, jump into cars with 10 strangers and drive two hours just to get a close and personal look at the largest toxic waste cleanup project in the country.
And instead of being the slightest bit grumpy, you feel like you have finally found birds that share your particular brand of nerdy feather.
Staring into the Berkeley Pit may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but it tends to be right up the alley of new graduate students in the University of Montana’s graduate program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism.
It’s become a tradition to kick off the program with what Professor Nadia White calls the “Super Fun Superfund Tour” – a daylong immersion into Montana’s storied mining and extraction history.
This year, the new cohort moved backwards through time and space, tracing the Clark Fork River upstream from Missoula toward its headwaters near the Continental Divide.
The Clark Fork and its tributaries are the veins through which toxic pollutants from a century of copper mining near Butte have spread. Each mile of the river is in a different state of restoration, reclamation, stagnancy or conflict.
Our first stop was Dry Cottonwood Creek ranch – a working cattle ranch owned by the non-profit Clark Fork Coalition located on the Upper Clark Fork. It’s a living laboratory for river and soil reclamation.
Rancher Maggie Schmidt showed students the sections of the river that are in the process of being cleaned up and explained the impact the reclamation project is having on her ranching operation. The visit was a window into how the federal government’s Superfund program plays out with private landowners and the agriculture sector on the ground.
Our caravan then wound through the town of Opportunity, which continues to be the dumping ground for other places’ hazardous waste. Brad Tyer, one of our chaperones and author of the book “Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape” offered insight as to how some communities, lands, and rivers in Montana may be restored, but there is almost always another one that becomes a kind of sacrificial lamb in exchange.
We stopped for lunch in Anaconda, which is famous for its remnant landmarks from its smelting days. At Smoke Stack State Park, I looked around to see my fellow graduate students clambering over a brick wall to touch slag from the old copper smelter with their bare hands.
Finally, we landed in Butte, the “black heart of Montana,” to meet up with Tom Malloy, the reclamations manager for Butte-Silver Bow County. Malloy lives and breathes environmental reclamation. He knows more sneaky passageways to mining sites than just about anyone else in the county, or maybe the entire country.
Malloy treated students not only to a bird’s-eye view of the Berkeley Pit, but also to a once-in-a-lifetime visit to Yankee Doodle Tailings Pond, which is hidden from the general public’s direct sight.
Seeing the legacy of extraction helped some students ground their ideas about these infamous places.
Journalism student Matt Blois’ only prior connection to the Pit was from hearing about it on Radio Lab. “I expected it to be much more sinister looking – bubbly, green and horrible looking,” he said. “It was strange to see it and know it was so acidic, because it looks so benign.”
Tromping around with Malloy was like having an all-access pass to the behind-the-scenes drama of Butte. I knew he had saved the best for last when he said he was going to take us to “Slag Wall Canyon”, a first for students as well as for our chaperones.
We pulled up next to a trickle of water outside of town and ducked under a crumbling archway. Soon, we were watching Silver Bow Creek meander between 30-foot walls constructed of bricks made from smelting waste. To the untrained eye, it was beautiful and eerie at the same time.
But to Malloy, it was another environmental disaster waiting to happen. He told us that toxic tailings are buried just beneath the slag walls. Meaning that if a big flood were to occur, or the slag walls proved structurally unsound, the old chemicals would be unleashed into the creek, enter the Clark Fork and make a dash for the Columbia. All of the reclamation and healing efforts at places like Maggie’s ranch would be undone, and the water supply of this area would be severely compromised once again.
As Malloy pointed out this risk, we thought hard about what it meant in the big scheme of things. As emergent journalists, how can we talk about slag walls and this one creek in a way that connects our audience to the hard and complex choices we all have to make? What about the ones we don’t make, but are implicated in? And how do we do that gracefully, without scaring the public away?
For his part, Malloy advocated for the creek to be re-routed away from danger. He made it sound as if changing the path of an entire creek was a relatively quick-and-easy fix, and to a reclamations specialist, perhaps it is.
But long after we arrived back in town, a little late and very hungry, I kept thinking about progress. I wondered how someone like Tom Malloy defines progress in his work on a daily basis when he is surrounded by problems created decades ago and solutions that will take a century. And how we are willing to define “solutions” themselves – when it’s so much easier to wish some of these harms had never been caused in the first place.
I hope the questions that bubbled to the surface that day will stay present as we willingly and bravely enter the fray as journalists, listeners, storytellers and witnesses.