J-School student receives award for Native News piece

Bjorn Bergeson, a senior at the J-School, received a seventh place finish in the feature writing category of the Hearst Journalism Awards Program for his Native News piece about government reform on the Blackfeet Reservation.

Bergeson and his photographer, J-School senior Elliot Natz, took six trips to Browning throughout the semester to report the story for Native News, a publication reported, photographed, edited and designed by students. Reporters and photographers are paired up and each pair is sent to report on one of the seven reservations in Montana.

“Ultimately at its heart, it's a story about the failures of government to help the people,” Bergeson said. “By doing the story, we were able to shine a light on both sides of a tribal business council that was completely dysfunctional to the point were it was hurting the people.”

This is the second year Bergeson has placed in the top 10 for the Hearst Journalism Awards Program, but he said this year was a surprise because he didn’t know his story was in the competition.

He added that this story was far and away the most intense and in-depth story he has ever done.

“The story was a confusing mess from the word go, as it involved a hundred years worth of terrible polices and politics,” Bergeson said. “Not to mention really controversial topics like blood quantum and tribal enrollment issues.”

It was a challenging story to tell because the pair had to learn about and adjust to cultural differences that they were not used to, Bergeson said.

“Sometimes we were expected to give gifts before an interview, so we stocked up on tobacco, sage and sweet grass,” he said. “That’s not something you learn in Reporting 270.”

The highlight of the experience was meeting the people of the Blackfeet Reservation.

“Everyone up there was fully aware just how bad their government was, but because the ways the laws are set up, there's nothing anyone can really do about it,” he said. “I can't say if this story made a difference or not at any level, but some of those council people needed to be fired at the least. And maybe we brought some outside attention to that.”

Bergeson added that Native News has been one of the best classes he has taken and that he would recommend it “in a heartbeat.”

“I feel like it’s a chance to really step outside of your comfort zone and tell some very important stories that you’d never hear about if you didn’t go to these places and meet these people,” he said.

Bergeson’s story can be found on the Native News website.

- posted on 12/03/14 -