NPR Reporter Nathan Rott: ‘… At Once The Hardest Educational Experience I’ve Ever Had. But Also Just So, So Awesome.’

By Erin Sargent

From Missoula to Antarctica and everywhere in between, University of Montana Journalism alumnus Nathan Rott has done it all: firefighting, fishing, working odd jobs across the world and eventually telling stories for National Public Radio as an on-air reporter.

Working for NPR’s National Desk, Rott covers environmental issues and says that he’s also one of the “breaking news guys,” working on stories like the Thousand Oaks shooting and the California wildfires.

He says he first tried his hand at journalism writing for Missoula Sentinel High School’s Konah newspaper. When he arrived at the University of Montana, he wasn’t sure about a journalism major. He thought about exploring theater or forestry, and eventually declared a major in anthropology.

But it was Nadia White’s reporting class that really got him hooked on journalism.

“It was at once the hardest educational experience I’ve ever had,” he says. “But also just so, so awesome.”

That reporting class set the path for the rest of Rott’s college career. He decided on a double major in anthropology and journalism. And his plans after graduation?

“I graduated in winter and I hightailed it to Nicaragua,” he says.

Rott likes to joke that he was a “pretty successful degenerate” for a while. He spent his summers fighting fires and planned to become a city firefighter, writing freelance magazine articles on the side.

And then Rott got some advice from professor Carol Van Valkenburg and took a chance, applying for the Stone and Holt Weeks Fellowship, an opportunity for non-traditional journalists to work with the Washington Post and NPR.

He got the call to interview in Washington, D.C., and immediately asked his mom to send his suit up to him in Kalispell, Montana, on a Greyhound bus.

Rott landed the fellowship and spent six months working in D.C., working for some of the best editors at the Washington Post and NPR. He says he still feels incredibly lucky.

When the fellowship ended, he took a break from journalism. He went to Antarctica for five months. He traveled through the Middle East, he worked seasonally in Alaska as a fisherman, the list goes on.

Through it all, Rott stuck with freelancing and, eventually, it paid off. On a trip to D.C. to edit a story, Rott met up with his former editor at NPR, who offered him a job.

“He basically told me, ‘if you can get to LA in seven days, you’ve got a job for two months,’” Rott says. “I turned a two-month contract into another month contract, and I got another month contract after that.”

Rott strung together month-by-month contracts with NPR for two years and was eventually offered a full-time position as a reporter. And that’s where he’s at now: driving around the country, covering stories about wildfires, grizzly bears and the occasional retiring rodeo bull. He says he owes it all to the UM J-School.

“There are a lot of people like me who came from that school and are proud to be coming from that school,” says Rott. “We are where we are today because of that school.”

Rott is currently covering the ongoing discussion of public support for the Endangered Species Act, specifically how it has been affecting the Yellowstone grizzly population for NPR. His work can be found at npr.org.

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.

 

Be the Best and Be Kind: Wisdom from UM Journalism Grad and Nike Video Producer Thea Bergeron

By Kiana Hohman

Thea Bergeron is the action star of J-School alumni, having filmed from helicopters, private planes, trains, and speeding SUVs.

A lot of this production excitement comes courtesy of her main client, Nike. Bergeron has been producing videos with Nike as a freelance senior creative video producer for more than seven years. Her videos are used in Nike stores, online, and many other platforms.

“My job has provided me with a lifetime of unforgettable experiences,” Bergeron said.

Her career started with a bachelor’s in communication, and a minor in business, from Southern Oregon University in 1994. She then moved to Montana and got a bachelor’s in journalism in 1999.

After graduating from UM, Bergeron moved back to Oregon and interned for Oregon Public Broadcasting. She then got hired as a video production assistant, and worked her way up from there.

As a senior creative producer at Nike, Bergeron, now 47, works on projects from “concept to completion.” She deals with the budget, hiring talent, securing locations and directing shoots.

“My favorite part of the job is telling a story,” she said.  

Although based in Portland, Bergeron’s job takes her all over the world from Dubai to Japan and Uruguay.

Bergeron said college helped expand her knowledge and worldview. It is important to understand what the goal is and go after it, she said.

“It just takes passion, hard work, tenacity, lots of late nights and long days,” said Bergeron. “There are a lot of people that do this job, so you have to be the best at what you do and be kind to everyone because it all comes back around.”

This story, which is part of a Thanksgiving week series called “Thank a J-School Grad,” was produced by the Fall 2018 Social Media and Engagement class at the Journalism School.

Alumni Spotlight: Erin Billings, Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, Global Strategy Group

Graduates of the University of Montana School of Journalism go on to do great things, in journalism and beyond. They direct newsrooms, report on international issues, photograph history, inform the public on air, start their own businesses, influence public policy, publish books and become leaders in their communities. Here, we spotlight some of our alumni who showcase just how powerful, and versatile, a journalism degree from UM can be. 

This installment spotlights Erin Billings, who graduated in 1995. Billings worked as a political reporter in Montana and then in Washington D.C., where she spent 10 years reporting and editing for Roll Call. She then moved into public affairs and strategic communications and is now the Senior Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs for Global Strategy Group.

Question: Was this the type of work you thought you’d be doing when you went to school? Share any details you’d like on your work trajectory?

Answer: When I graduated from J-School, I thought I would spend my career in journalism. But after nearly 15 years, I was ready for a change, and decided to pursue a career in communications and public affairs. I’ve now been a communications consultant for six years, and I’ve found that the skills I honed as a journalist are wildly transferrable. Now I help clients navigate the media world so they know what to expect, when to expect it and how best to tell their stories.

Can you describe an average day on the job?

There’s no average day on the job in public relations, which is perhaps why I find it so rewarding. I work on a diverse and broad client portfolio – from nonprofits, to corporations to trade associations. Each client need is different (and evolving), and the issues and challenges change day-to-day.

What experiences at the J-School were notable in preparing you for your work?

Journalism School taught me the fundamentals – writing, editing, strategic thinking, all of which I use every day. The practical side of journalism, and the skills I learned at UM, taught me the importance of deadlines, responsiveness and decisiveness. It was one of the best building blocks I could have had in this career.

What are the skills you learned in J-School that you use on a daily basis? In your work? In your life?

Writing is one of the most important skills for any professional, no matter what path they choose. The J-School taught me how to write well, write thoughtfully, with precision and accuracy. The J-School also taught me to be curious, ask the right questions, and arrive at smart solutions. I use these skills every day, both professionally and personally.

What do you think makes the J-School special? Do you have any particularly fond memories of your time at the J-School?

The J-School is special, not only for the quality of the programs and the professors, but also because of the community it creates. The relationships and experiences I had on campus made such an impact on me personally and professionally. Some of my fondest memories were while working on the Kaimin, until all hours of the night, with an amazing group of students who wanted to work hard, loved the news, and who wanted to tell the most interesting stories in the most thought-provoking ways.

What do you wish you would have learned at the J-School?

I wished I had more time at the J-School so I could have explored some of the other aspects of journalism, including photo journalism. If I were to go back today, I would want to spend time learning about digital analytics and the sophisticated tools therein. I would also like to learn more about paid media strategies.

What advice would you give a student just starting out in journalism school? Or, what advice would you give to someone considering journalism school?

I would tell any prospective journalism school student to appreciate the range of possibilities a degree can offer. Journalism school is not just for someone interested in becoming a reporter; it offers a baseline of skills for a variety of careers (communications, journalism, public affairs, political work, advocacy, etc.). The fundamentals learned in journalism school can put any student on a successful professional path.