Two award winning reporters and authors have been named the Crown Reporting Project mentors for 2019.
Jim Robbins, a prolific author and long-time reporter for The New York Times, will work with Crown reporting fellow Kevin Trevellyan. Robbins is based in Helena, Montana, and travels throughout the West for his reporting.
Trevellyan pitched a story about emerging agricultural practices to win a 2019 Crown Reporting Fellowship.
Ben Goldfarb is an independent journalist living in Spokane, Washington. His 2018 book “Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter” won the 2019 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award, among other accolades.
Goldfarb will be working with Crown reporting fellow Maxine Speier. Speier pitched a story about under-examined trends affecting communities at risk of wildfire to win a 2019 Crown Reporting Fellowship.
The Crown Reporting Project was established in 2014 to promote quality storytelling about climate, communities and conservation in the Crown of the Continent region.
The project pairs emerging journalists with seasoned pros to pursue stories that focus on the vast landscapes and small communities between the Bitterroot Valley in Montana, and British Columbia.
The highly competitive mentoring program was made possible by a generous gift in memory of conservation pioneer Ted Smith.
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.”
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.
Rising around the University of Montana are a series of low mountains etched with subtle benches that catch the snow and create shadowy rings around the sprawling valley. These are the beaches of glacial lake Missoula, a colossal catchment that formed 10,000 years ago behind massive ice dams. The lake filled, then collapsed with such energy that it shaped the landscape from western Montana, through the Columbia River Gorge to the sea.
Each year, we refill our program with graduate students who arrive from across the country to study Natural Resource and Environmental Science journalism in the heart of where it happens. The mountains and valleys of Western Montana are our laboratories and the people who live here are guides in the stories they share.
The Feb. 15 deadline for priority application consideration just closed and those applicants should expect to hear their admissions status by early March. But we take pride in developing a cohort of students who both push and support each other, and so we continue taking applications until April 15 for students wishing to start Fall 2019. (The difference between the pools is the priority distribution of financial aid and teaching assistantships.) (Click here for more information on how to apply.)
Current students and recent alumni of the journalism graduate program have been busy in the last year building their potential and letting their impact ripple through journalism both close to home and to distant shores.
With the help of the Greater Montana Foundation, videographers have been tackling issues that bring science, the environment and public health together in important ways. Film maker Henry Worobec ’18’s Confluir, an exploration of threats and opportunities along the Rio Marañón, Amazon’s main stem, has been making the rounds at film festivals.
Jamie Drysdale ’18 will premiere heart-wrenching film Lethal Control at the 2019 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference at the University of Oregon on March 2. The film examines the use of cyanide poison as a coyote control in Idaho and Wyoming.
Nora Saks ’16, a member of the SubSurface team, is about to let loose a podcast of her own. Sincegraduation, Saks has worked for Montana Public Radio covering environmental issues in Butte, Montana. As she reported the daily efforts to improve conditions at one of the country’s largest Superfund sites, she has been gathering tape for a podcast of her own. Listen for Richest Hill at MTPR.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow Nora on Instagram @nrvsaks.
Writer Will Grant ‘10 continues chasing adventure with both harrowing and hilarious results. A Colorado cowboy and master of the long narrative, Will raced in the world’s hardest horse race in 2013 and wrote a feature story about the experience for Outside Magazine. Now he appears in All the Wild Horses, a new documentary about the race: “Every time you work with horses, especially wild horses like this, you can get hurt very badly,” he says, stating what becomes obvious in the trailer. Since 2013, he has ridden the Pony Express trail, sailed the eastern seaboard in autumn and participated in Team USA Kok Boru, that horseback contest played with a dead goat. Follow him on Instagram @willgrantofthewest
Writer Heather Fraley ‘18 took to the field this fall to profile a UM program that shows new hunters the ropes and helps ensure their first outing is successful – whether they bring game home or not.
Current students may not be done calling Missoula home quite yet, but they’re creating ripples of their own.
Writer Samantha Weber and videographer Mikensi Romersa traveled to South Korea over the summer as part of UM’s International Reporting class. They produced stories for Atlantic Magazine’s CityLab, including this piece on the disoriented life of North Korean defectors.
Back on the ranch, Weber has focused her reporting on a number of stories about self-directed solutions on the Blackfeet Reservation. One, about eco-tourism, reflects the work she did with mentor Graham Lee Brewer as a Crown Reporting Project winner. That piece is slated to appear in High Country News.
Photographer Louise Johns has been scooping up freelance work while finishing her first-year coursework. Although her projects focus on ranch life, bison restoration and wide open spaces, when The New York Times came calling last week, she changed gears to take a portrait for a story on changing feelings about pregnancy.
Looking ahead, instructor Jeff Gailus will lead the Montana Journalism Abroad this summer on a deep dive into our own backyard. Gailus, an accomplished writer and native of Calgary, will lead a reporting trip focused on energy development and the environment in Western Canada.