J-School class works with Montana Public Radio to cover election

Students in the Covering Elections class are working with Montana Public Radio and a network of newspapers across Montana to cover the 2014 election.

Taught by Dennis Swibold and Lee Banville, the students write stories before, during and after the election that are posted to the Montana Public Radio website and circulated to more than 50 newspapers across the state.

The class gives students a chance to see how elections really work, Swibold said. He added that this year the class interviewed every candidate for statewide office as well as the key players behind the two ballot issues.

“The newspapers that used the students' stories are locally focused weeklies and small dailies that don't have the resources to cover the statewide races,” Swibold said. “Our work fills a need, and the papers are appreciative.”

The class was also involved in a live fact-checking segment for Montana Public Radio during the Oct. 20 debate between U.S. Senate candidates Steve Daines and Amanda Curtis.

“The students scrambled to provide instant context for claims made by both Congressman Steve Daines and his challenger, Amanda Curtis. It's a stressful but exhilarating thing to do,” Swibold said of the fact-checking segment. “What viewers didn't see were the hours students spent before the debate, digging through the candidates’ histories and their votes or statements on an array of issues, many of which never cropped up at the debate. But they had to be prepared, and they were.”

This spring, the J-School will be sending students to Helena to cover the Legislature’s 2015 regular session. Michael Wright, a senior from Idaho, will cover the session for a netowkr of about 40 weekly and small daily newspapers. Madelyn Beck, a senior from Manhattan, Montana, will provide coverage for several dozen commercial radio stations. Back in Missoula, graduate student Laura Scheer will help the service’s editor post the coverage to Montana Public Radio’s website.

The J-School has been providing this service since the mid-1990s. The work is supported by the Montana Newspaper Association, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

- posted on 10/29/14 -