J-School Alumni Tips: Maritsa Georgiou-Hamilton

To help students better envision their future at the J-School, we have reached out to J-School alumni who have gone on to use their UM Journalism experience as a foundation for their careers.

The 2019 Montana Broadcaster of the Year, Maritsa Georgiou-Hamilton attended UM from 2003 – 2007 and shares a few tips:

Maritsa Georgiou-Hamilton, reporting for NBC Montana

Maritsa Georgiou-Hamilton

UM Journalism School, 2003 – 2007

Areas of focus: communications, political science, radio and television broadcasting, print writing

What are you doing now and how did your journalism education prepare you? 

I’m the evening anchor for NBC Montana. Journalism classes at UM were tough, but they really prepared me for life on the outside. I look back at what I thought was a heavy workload and laugh some days. In the TV news business, “normal days” are followed by days of 17 hour shifts with no food breaks standing in inclement weather or chasing a fugitive behind the cops. One of my biggest takeaways came, again, from Denise Dowling. She put a big emphasis on getting the work done without excuses. It’s no different in the newsroom. Our shows go on every night at 5, 6 and 10, regardless of what might have happened to your footage or how bad your cold is. This isn’t just great career guidance, it’s great life guidance.  

How did a J-School education affect your career path? 

I can’t say enough about the University of Montana School of Journalism. In addition to the hands-on work at school, I landed a job at the local NBC affiliate my junior year. That was only because Denise Dowling sent out a note encouraging my class to apply. That turned into my internship, which turned into my first full-time reporting job. I was in the right place at the right time for several promotions and was anchoring within my first year of working full-time. I have friends who went to journalism schools across the country, including Northwestern and Mizzou, who never even got a job in journalism. I really believe our small, but incredible and immersive program set me up for a lifetime of success in this field. 

Beyond your journalism education, what were some of your favorite experiences in the community of Missoula? 

Missoula is such a special place. It really is a community that cares and makes space for everyone. I love walking down University Ave. on a fall day, going to the Clark Fork River Market in the summer, hiking the M, floating the Clark Fork River, skiing in the winter. You won’t run out of breathtaking experiences here.  

What tips do you have for incoming students at UM? 

Stay active! Make sure you have balance in your life. It’s important to get the work done, but also take time to foster friendships. I can’t believe how many times I’ve used my college connections to network. Take a class that has nothing to do with your major, but just interests you. 

Maritsa and Professor Denise Dowling at the 2019 Montana Broadcaster of the Year Award ceremony

What do you wish you knew when you first started at UM? 

Biga Pizza is worth the extra money. Also, your life path will change because of your time here. Make the best of it!

What advice to you have for students considering pursuing a degree at the J-School? 

Expect to work hard and long hours, but with people you’ll be connected to the rest of your life. If you want to work in journalism, I can’t recommend this school highly enough. I have been so blessed because of my time at UM and so many alums before me have helped in countless ways.  

 

Since leaving the J-School, what do you miss the most? 

I miss seeing the people every day on campus. I still care more about Denise Dowling’s opinion than my own mother’s… and that says a lot. My professors turned into friends. I’m so thankful for my relationships with all of them, and I’m still in touch with them on a fairly regular basis. If I’m ever on campus, I always stop by. 

Any personal reflections you think J-School students might benefit from knowing about the J-School?

Your classmates will become your family.  

You will be part of a web of successful talent that spans decades and experience levels, which is invaluable in this industry.  

 

 

Reporter’s Notebook: Following The Thread While Covering a Big, Complicated Beat

Hemp grows in a field near Stevensville, Montana. Photo by Kevin Trevellyan.

By Kevin Trevellyan

My nascent journalism career has included a few beats thus far. I covered education at a daily paper, as well as science and city government—unwieldy, amorphous subjects. Part of learning to report a beat is deciding which stories are worth pursuing beyond the obligatory ones. Sure, you need to cover the city council meetings, but what will you work on in between? An analysis of the effects of partisan versus nonpartisan elections? A profile on the longtime city clerk? A records request on communications between local business leaders and elected officials? There isn’t really a “correct” answer, so much as one that represents your journalistic priorities and how they can best serve your audience.Like those beats, which are basically topics, my current focus on hemp – yes, hemp — is similarly expansive. This spring I received a Crown Reporting Project fellowship. My winning pitch was to examine the potential of hemp as an export crop for farmers along the 49th parallel.

As one cliché goes, one can wring 50,000 uses from the fiber, grain and cannabinoids of the 16-foot-tall plant. So, there’s plenty to learn about the crop, and the challenge becomes deciding which angles to include in my long-form print story about Montana’s burgeoning hemp economy.

Hemp, I’ve learned, is a beat of its own. Instead of shaping coverage with stories published over a span of weeks and months, I’m forming a single piece with the varied ideas, sources and scenes that will make for something rich and well-rounded.

Well-rounded, but hopefully focused. I’ve identified a main character or two with whom I’ll spend considerable in-person time. At this stage, though, most of my interviews have been done over the phone. And on nearly each call, new things seize my interest. This or that farmer co-op trying to market boutique hemp-derived products, a lab here researching new crop varieties, or a farmer over there who feels treated more like criminal than businessman. I furiously type these interview returns into my Word document; often they’re followed by exclamation points and bolded for emphasis after I take the phone off my shoulder.

Cold presses in Fort Benton are used to process hemp into oil. Photo by Kevin Trevellyan.

That’s the thrill of discovery. But what do I do with all that junk after the initial excitement of discovery fades? For 20 or so minutes I burn the retinas from my skull staring at the pages and pages and pages of notes on my laptop. Then I relocate to the couch with a novel to “clear my head.” Not every thread can be woven into a single story. It’s difficult deciding which belong, and which muddy my main points.

Still, gaping craters in my reporting lie beside mounds of interview excess. I’m figuring out what I don’t know, but should. It always feels like there’s another phone call to make and person to visit. And there actually is, at this stage in the reporting process. But I don’t know if that feeling will evaporate even after I’ve actually collected the goods.

In the meantime, I keep making calls, combing archived newspaper clippings and seeking technical documents. But reading what I’ve gathered over and over, the material can lose its sheen. A quirky fact becomes mundane with familiarity, and it’s sometimes hard not to eventually think “does anyone even care about this after all?” The worst part is having kind, thoughtful people ask about the thing. Getting beers with a friend: “You’re working on a story about hemp? Can you tell me about it?” Phone call with mom: “Did you see this article about CBD?” In fact, I swore I heard my cat meow “decorticator” the other day after I finished a particularly technical interview about hemp processing equipment.

If the extended reporting process is responsible for my fatigue, though, it also jumpstarts waning enthusiasm. Just when I’m thoroughly tired of hemp — wishing it were still illegal to grow; that I could move on to a story about anything else — I learn something new that gets me hungry all over again. Or I see how an interview or scene could fit into the larger story, and the whole project becomes clearer. Then I start this process again, but I know slightly more and the finished product seems a little closer.

Graduate student Kevin Trevellyan is working with New York Times journalist and author Jim Robbins on a Crown Reporting Project fellowship, which includes Kevin’s work investigating the rise, and legalization, of hemp. See more about the project here.

Introducing the 2019 Crown Reporting Fellows, Mentors

Photo of Jim Robbins and Kevin Trevellyan.
Jim Robbins and Kevin Trevellyan

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.

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Ben Goldfarb and Maxine Speier.

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.