Scientists, conservationists and journalists examine barriers to storytelling

Students participating in a Story Lab Retreat.

Photo: Scientists, journalists and journalism students learn about energy development on the Rocky Mountain Front, during the graduate program’s 2014 Story Lab Retreat at the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch. From left, freelance science journalist Hillary Rosner, Associate Professor Cory Cleveland of the College of Forestry and Conservation, the J-School’s graduate program director Henriette Löwisch, B&C Conservation Program Manager Luke Coccoli and journalism graduate student Nate Hegyi. (Laura Scheer)

The best way to spark collaboration among journalists, scientists and conservationists might just be to corral them on a Rocky Mountain Front ranch.

Researchers, conservation advocates, journalists and journalism students gathered at the Boone and Crockett Club’s Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch near Dupuyer over Easter weekend, to examine barriers to effective storytelling on scientific research and large-landscape conservation in the Northern Rockies.

The retreat was organized by the Master’s program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism at the University of Montana, with support from the Montana Institute on Ecosystems and the family of the late conservationist Ted Smith.

“We each have our own different ways of communicating information,” graduate program director Henriette Löwisch said. “What unites us is our appreciation of the magnificent landscape we are fortunate to get to work in.”

Hillary Rosner, an award-winning science journalist from Boulder, Colo., was the guest speaker.

“She was able to provide insight about our world of science journalism which immediately got my wheels turning about my own stories and journalistic process,” journalism graduate student Abbey Dufoe said.

Steve Thompson, executive director of the Cinnabar Foundation, said he enjoyed Rosner’s discussion on how to formulate story ideas and then working in groups to generate new ones.

“It helped the scientists begin to understand the difference between a story and a topic,” he said.

Art Woods, an associate professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at UM, said he learned how science journalists create story arcs.

It was about how to turn science nerds into heroes, he said.

Woods collaborates with Story Lab, a course in the School of Journalism’s graduate program that pairs students with environmental scientists to enhance their understanding of the scientific process. The retreat helped to deepen the Story Lab relationships.

“The one-on-one conversations that grew out of simply being with one another for several days, sharing the same location, was extremely helpful,” Breana Milldrum, a journalism graduate student, said. “The conversations were deeper and richer.”

The retreat celebrated the legacy of Ted Smith, the former director of the Kendall Foundation, who died in a hiking accident in the Mission Mountains in 2012.

Smith valued storytellers capable of understanding complex scientific, social and political relationships. He saw a need for robust and engaging narratives that better enable the public to measure the full weight of critical climate, energy and resource decisions.

- posted on 04/23/14 -