Rarely do two University of Montana School of Journalism classes decide to tell the same stories on the same theme. But this year, two capstone classes — Montana Journalism Review and Documentary Film — chose to cover the booming economies and communities in Montana and North Dakota.
“Combined the projects show that the J-School's students and its faculty are looking beyond Missoula to cover issues important to the entire state and, in some sense, the nation," MJR editor-in-chief and advisor Henriette Löwisch said.
Löwisch challenged her students to focus on the broad theme of “Boom”: the way outside demand and drive for resources have changed the state. MJR managing editor Billie Loewen said looking beyond obvious booms sets the magazine apart from the documentary. The main feature is told through the eyes of a young Sidney Herald reporter. Other stories in the magazine include Montana booms, like how Rosebud, a predominately agricultural town, must cross county lines in order to find food and how unexploded rounds left over from military training in Helena, Mont. are making for some explosive real estate.
The documentary film students focused their film around the story of the oil boom in Montana and North Dakota and its effects on the locals. Beth Beechie is co-producer of “Boom! Behind the Bakken.” She said one of the reasons they chose the oil boom is that they might not get another chance to cover a story quite like it. Beechie said the important part is both classes enabled students to get experience reporting in unique situations.
“There is no one way to tell the story of the Bakken oil boom,” she said.
Documentary students interviewed a variety of people — from a stripper in Williston, N.D. to a DJ for a local radio station. With the permission of oil company executives, the documentary class got an exclusive tour of an automated rig and interviewed a rig inspector about the dangers workers face daily. The students were in classes taught by Associate Professor Denise Dowling and Kagan Yochim, producer/director at KUFM Television.
"People all over the country are interested in what happens out here," Dowling said.
Dowling said sending a crew was one of the biggest challenges the class faced. Students traveled across the state and into North Dakota and filmed the Bakken area for five days, but there was no way to return — no second chances.
Since filming finished and editing began, Dowling said she was intrigued and excited to get a first hand look at one of the biggest stories in Montana. The film premiered on Montana PBS on May 17.
It seems no stone has been left unturned in the story of the Bakken. Loewen said the two projects complement each other well and Löwisch agreed.
"The oil boom in eastern Montana is such a big story it's no wonder two of the capstone classes at the School of Journalism chose to cover it," Löwisch said.