University of Montana Newspaper Field Trip

The annual high school journalism day at the University of Montana took place on April 18th this year. The event brings over 100 journalism students from around the state together to celebrate student journalism and learn from the UM journalism faculty. This year, several members of the newspaper staff attended the event. 


8:50 – 9:10 

After checking in at the Grand Foyer, students were greeted by UM Journalism professors in the University Center ballroom. As everyone arrived and sat in their seats, MJEA (Montana Journalism Education Association) members began the celebration by handing out awards to high schoolers from across the state. 


9:15 – 10:00  

The first game started much earlier than scheduled: “Fake News Game Show.” Professor Swibold and other teachers hosted a game show-style workshop to kick off the day. Representatives from various high schools were placed on one of three teams to determine if the information provided was “Fake,” “Mostly Fake,” “True,” or “Mostly True.” Students needed to include their fact-checking source, such as Snopes and FactCheck.org. All three teams tied to win the game. 


11:10 – Noon (Workshop #1)

“They Aren’t Like Me” with Professor Jason Begay (Marcus Roberts and Mia Tocas)

In this workshop, we explored diversity in journalism. We learned about the atrocious history of single white cultures being unfairly spotlighted in the media, even in some cities where they were the minorities. The professor showed us an ESPN article about previous New York Knicks player Jeremy Lin. Lin, being Asian American, felt like he was subject to racism after the editors titled the article ‘A Chink in the Armor.’ Begay explained that if the ESPN staff was more diverse, mistakes like this could be avoided. He talked about his experiences with diversity and suggested ways we could support diversity in our own stories. 

“In the Beginning” with Professor Jule Banville (Zane Roush and Melina Scott)

Many of us struggle to write the first sentences in an essay or story. In news stories, first sentences must provide enough information to draw the reader in, but not too much that they stop reading after the first paragraph. Professor Banville’s workshop focused on how to write the perfect first sentence that gives away just the right amount of information. Students learned about the SVO, or Subject – Verb – Object technique, in which the first sentence contains the person or thing that is doing an action that affects something else. This sets up a sentence that provides basic information, but also makes the reader want to know more. Students also discussed what Banville called the “Information Triangle,” an inverted triangle that places the most important information at the top and the least important at the bottom. After sorting that information out, writers decide what less important facts to keep, while keeping the most important stuff towards the beginning of the article. Banville explained that this technique is used because people often don’t read whole articles because they don’t have time, and readers most likely will not make it to the end before shifting their focus elsewhere. Overall, this workshop was extremely helpful in not only learning about how to write good lead sentences, but also how to structure whole articles to keep readers interested and place facts where they belong.


1:10 – 2:00 (Workshop #2) 

“Words + Pictures + Your Creativity = Fun with Design” with Professor Keith Graham (Marcus Roberts and Mia Tocas)

He began by preaching about the importance of advertising and marketing newspapers and websites with color schemes. “Different colors portray different feelings,” he said, “that is why so many companies are purposely associated with the color blue.” We also focused on how text can subconsciously influence people to decide if they want to spend any time at all reading articles. It was incredible how many factors there are that make a difference in the marketing aspect of journalism. 

“Stories That Saved Our Planet” with Professor Nadia White (Zane Roush and Melina Scott)

For our second workshop, Melina and I attended a lecture by Professor Nadia White, who runs the environmental journalism graduate program at U of M. This workshop drew attention to the ever growing issues surrounding our planet, and how journalism actually plays a large part in exposing these issues and helps bring awareness to them.

She began with the Gilded Age, and The Jungle by Sinclair Lewis. This novel exposed the horrors of the meat-packing industry at the time. Although it doesn’t relate directly to the environment, it impacted where people decided to get their food. Two notable examples of more recent stories included Silent Spring and the hole in the ozone. The first (Silent Spring)  is Rachel Carson’s series of stories, and eventual book, covering the usage of DDT as a pesticide, and its impacts through bioaccumulation (big science words, Yeah!). The second, which wasn’t a single piece, but numerous journalistic works that covered the growing hole in the ozone layer caused by the usage of aerosols called Chlorofluorocarbons (BIG science words, YEaaaaH!), or CFC’s for short. These CFC’s caused a chemical reaction that began to deplete the ozone layer, allowing harmful radiation to slip through. Journalism helped spread word of the impacts of CFC’s, and within 10 years their usage was banned globally. These focuses on the environment, along with many others, show how journalism can truly help bring attention to a topic that needs more of a spotlight.

Finally, she asked us how journalism could help stop today’s issues, and if journalism is going to be as effective today as it was 30 years ago, before the Age of Information? As a group we discussed this, all feeling slightly helpless. Despite this, Prof. White left us with the message that if we are to do something about the issue, we are the people to do it, but we must act soon. The journalistic endeavors of the past have helped prevent environmental crisis, and White believes that environmental journalists can help to improve heal our rapidly decaying planet. This call to action struck deeply with me, and it’s made me consider the possibility of pursuing a second major in journalism. Although I’m going into a science field, hearing what Prof. White had to say made me realize that the science is for naught if you cannot communicate your findings to the public and government, so I might add on a journalism component to my major. I don’t know. We’ll just have to see how the wind blows.

After journalism day, we reflected as a group what we liked about the different workshops as well as what we learned. We were glad and thankful to have the opportunity to explore firsthand what it would be like to study journalism at the University of Montana. 

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