Scientists, Conservationists, Journalists Examine Barriers to Storytelling

April 24, 2014

MISSOULA – 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 2014 Story Lab 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 Lowisch said. “What unites us is our appreciation of the magnificent landscape we are fortunate 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,” said Abbey Dufoe, a UM School of Journalism graduate student.

Steve Thompson, executive director of the Cinnabar Foundation, said he enjoyed Rosner’s discussion on how to formulate story ideas, followed by 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.

Woods collaborates with Story Lab, a course in the UM 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, he said.

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

For more information call UM School of Journalism Communication and Events Coordinator Julia Cummings at 406-243-4366 or email More information on the graduate program is available at



Contact: Julia Cummings, communications and events coordinator, UM School of Journalism, 406-243-4366,