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

Nate Rott, NPR Reporter

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.

Breanna McCabe: 'It’s An Incredible Feeling When Someone Trusts You With Their Story.'

Breanna McCabe

By Tessa Nadeau and Jamie McNally

Breanna McCabe has helped inspire the next generation of journalism students even as she returns to her alma mater to tackle a graduate degree and produce a documentary project that’s taking her into remote locations in Montana and Canada.

Originally from Missoula, McCabe chose to stay close to home for school, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from the Journalism School in 2009. She landed a job at University Relations at UM where she produces videos and edits publications. This year, she decided to continue her education as a graduate student in the School of Journalism’s Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism program.

She earned the Crown Reporting Fellowship at UM, which sponsors graduate students producing stories about the environment in the “Crown of the Continent” region.

McCabe’s project takes her to the edge of the tree line in Northern Montana and Canada to study the challenges of the whitebark pine trees. She is producing a documentary about how climate change, disease, and pests have devastated the species of gnarled trees that exist on the edge of where trees grow and what people are doing to save them.

To this UM alumna and graduate student, it’s not just another story. 

“I care deeply about nature, and I worry about our planet’s future. I see storytelling as my best shot at making a difference for future generations,” McCabe said.

McCabe says getting to travel places rewarding, but it hasn’t been smooth sailing the whole time.

“Climbing up the side of a mountain with no trail, with a video camera and tripod was trying,” McCabe said. “But now the task of sifting through footage to tell the story that captivated me is perhaps a bigger challenge.”

McCabe is hopeful that this is just the first of many long form stories she gets to tell.

She says that when it comes to being a journalist, she is most grateful for the conversations.

“I feel so fortunate every time someone opens up to me, whether I’m rolling or not. It’s an incredible feeling when someone trusts you with their story,” McCabe said.

McCabe says the foundation her professors provided her with is what she is most thankful for and it is why she is continuing her education in Missoula.

“I knew I was learning from the best, and they always pushed me to do better. So did my classmates. We had a great group of broadcast and production students who felt like family by graduation,” McCabe said.

McCabe is more than a student at the school, though. For many students she is also that professor who first engages with them, teaching the intro news writing class over the past several semesters. Her students say she's a professor who cares about their progress in the program and inspires them to try harder.

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.

 

The Key to a Career Freelancing, Including for the New York Times? 'Take Rejection With Stride and Be Professional But Not Precious,' Says Nate Schweber, '01

Nate Schweber

By Noelle Huser

From crime to politics to subway delays, Nate Schweber covers New York City news as a freelance metro journalist for the New York Times.  But with strong ties to Montana, Schweber enjoys returning to Big Sky Country to write stories about the West whenever he can.

After graduating with a degree in journalism, Schweber got his foot in the door with an internship at Rolling Stone in 2001, going on to write for the Village Voice from there.

He bounced around a bit, writing for various small publications in the New York City region before becoming a freelancer for the New York Times in 2005. He has freelanced for other publications since, but the Times is his mainstay.

For the metro section he covers daily happenings in the city, particularly political - and crime - related events. He recently covered the pipe bombs that were being sent to journalists and high-ranking Democrats. After the first package was sent to George Soros, an investor and philanthropist, Schweber spent a day posted outside the Soros' house in New York following up on police reports, while simultaneously checking in on threats and suspicious behavior reports at New York City synagogues after the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.

Although Schweber has stayed with the Times, he has also figured out how to pay the bills freelancing, always brainstorming stories and developing a thick skin.

Schweber said, to “take rejection with stride and be professional but not precious,” is an important part of his work. He has to stay flexible if a story he pitches changes according to what an editor desires.

Cultivating relationships and networking are the ”the gold coins of freelancing” -- coins he uses to pay his way back to Montana when he can, staying in touch with publications that want stories about the West and constantly pulling from his knowledge of his home state to pitch stories.  

“With freelancing, the trick is to cultivate relationships with editors,” he said “if you have a handful you work for regularly you can make ends meet.”

Schweber still taps his Journalism School professors for guidance when he needs it, noting a recent time he reached out to Dennis Swibold with a journalism ethics question.

While he was at UM he worked for the Montana Kaimin and he says writing three to four stories a day got him in the habit of always thinking of story ideas, making phone calls and writing a lot.

“It wasn’t just learning journalism, it was doing journalism. That was so helpful when I got into the real world,” he said.

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

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.