Pursuing a passion for the great outdoors and making it as a full-time freelance journalist are one and the same for Kevin Rhoades, who graduated from the School of Journalism in 1998 with a master’s degree in print journalism.
Rhoades, who still calls Missoula home, combines his own freelance writing and photography assignments with producing books and creating websites for other outdoor journalists. Earlier this year he also launched his own publishing company, Five Valleys Press, a name that pays homage to the greater Missoula region.
“My bread and butter is laying out books for outdoor writers—cover design and that sort of thing,” he says. “I basically take their copy and I flow the text, I design the book.”
Rhoades says his J-School education provided the necessary skills allowing him to strike a balance between all of these different types of professional activities.
Among the four books Rhoades has published with his Five Valleys Press so far is his own book, “Wildlife Stalker: Days in the Life of Filmmaker Bob Landis.” The book explores the life of a filmmaker who has spent 40 years filming wildlife in Yellowstone National Park.
Rhoades’ affinity for America’s first national park began in the 1980s when he arrived there to work as a bear researcher with the Bozeman-based Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team.
That position—which lasted for three six-month seasons in the park—let Rhoades use his undergraduate degree in biology. “I had a lot of fun. I had a lot of adventures there.”
"Wildlife Stalker' winds two stories into one: It depicts Rhoades’ days afield with the wildlife cinematographer who has filmed and co-produced stories about Yellowstone’s iconic critters—the bear, the wolf, the bison—that have aired on PBS, Nature and on National Geographic Television. And it also explores the filmmaker’s growing up years in Wisconsin.
Recent praise for the book includes winning first place in the biography category in Dan Poynter’s Global eBook Awards.
Rhoades believes the advent of paperless electronic book publishing and other changes in the publishing industry have opened new doors for authors. He hopes his Five Valleys Press can help writers of outdoors books make a go of it. “There are a lot of opportunities. People just need to change the way they think.”
In his book publishing and website design ventures and his freelance magazine assignments Rhoades has witnessed the value of networking with like-minded colleagues in journalism. Immediately after graduating with a master’s degree, he was hired as the publications editor for the Outdoor Writers Association of America (OWAA). The organization had just moved its headquarters to Missoula, presenting Rhoades with an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. The job called on every one of the skills he acquired at UM. “In the next five years I produced 60 of their association magazines for their trade members. I was the editor, designer, website builder, the whole works.”
Following his foray into editing, Rhoades was promoted to Executive Director for OWAA. He held that position for six years, resigning in May 2010. “Since then, I wrote my book, started Five Valleys Press and produced four books,” he says.
Rhoades hopes to see more up-and-coming journalism students consider giving the outdoor writing industry a chance. Right now many of the top journalists in this field are getting older—presenting younger journalists with an opportunity, he says.