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University of Montana environmental journalism master's program receives $500K

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The University of Montana School of Journalism recently received a $500,000 grant to support its graduate program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism.

The program was selected to receive the 2021 Journalism Impact Grant through the Orange County Community Foundation in California.

“This fabulous gift recognizes the strength of UM’s interdisciplinary approach to training the professional journalists and science communicators of tomorrow,” said Nadia White, director of the graduate program and a journalism associate professor, in a Tuesday press release.

For more than a decade, the journalism master’s program has prepared journalists to report on human impacts on the natural world, as well as the natural world’s impacts on communities, the release said. Graduates from the program have gone on to work for a variety of newspapers, online news sites and public radio newsrooms across the country.

The funds from the grant will help bolster the journalism school’s Crown Reporting Fellowship, which sponsors students to produce stories about the environment in the Crown of the Continent in the Rocky Mountain region of Montana, Alberta and British Columbia.

Roger and Libby Smith created the fellowship in 2015 in honor of conservationist Ted Smith. Finalists for the Crown Reporting Fellowship are selected through a story-pitch competition coupled with mentorship and a networking event.

Fellows have produced stories about the Blackfeet Nation opening its own national park, hemp farming, invasive mussels in Montana’s waterways and many other topics relevant to the region. Their work has been published by outlets like National Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, Montana Public Television and High Country News.

“We look on this grant as a vote of confidence in Nadia White’s dedication and vision for our graduate program,” said Denise Dowling, director of the School of Journalism and a journalism professor. “We’re grateful for the ability to continue our already-successful Crown Fellowship, which brings top-notch grad students to UM.”

The impact of the fellowship was not lost on Breanna McCabe, a recent graduate from the journalism master's program who now works as a producer for Montana PBS. 

"It wasn't until I received the Crown Reporting Fellowship that I really had ample time and resources to deeply understand a topic at the scientific level before sharing what I learned with the public," McCabe said.

Through her fellowship, she produced a half-hour-long documentary on whitebark pine trees that aired on Montana PBS and nationally on PBS' World Channel. 

"It was a topic I never would've known to tackle without the intimate journalism program at the University of Montana that teaches students to get comfortable having conversations with scientists," McCabe said. "The Crown Reporting Fellowship fueled my future, setting me on the path to producing more time-intensive and thoughtful longform video stories at Montana PBS."

The 2021 Journalism Impact Grant ensures that the fellowship program will continue engaging student journalists and mentors for years to come.

But the funds won’t be used to support the Crown Reporting Fellowship exclusively.

The grant will also provide more scholarship opportunities for incoming and current graduate students and will prepare student journalists to cover news occurring in “extreme situations,” according to the release.

“I’m particularly excited the grant will allow us to expand the curriculum to prepare student reporters and professionals covering extreme situations,” Dowling said.

In the coming years, the program aims to become a training ground for emerging journalists who cover climate change, destructive weather events, human migration, environmental disruption and armed conflicts over limited natural resources.

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