UM Student-Produced Documentary Examines Economy of Small-Town Montana

May 22, 2015

A tractor drives along Highway 12 toward White Sulphur Springs. (Photo by Mikensi Romersa)

MISSOULA – A high school senior packs her bags and gets ready to leave for college, never expecting to return to her hometown. A father of two wants to create opportunity in that same town so someday his children can return home to good jobs. Meanwhile, the town wrestles with the possibility of an economic shot in the arm that potentially poses a threat to the area’s most valuable tourist attraction.

Students in the University of Montana School of Journalism have created a television documentary examining the economy of small-town Montana. “Changing Home – Small Town Survival” will air at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 28, on MontanaPBS. The documentary is a case study of White Sulphur Springs, a town in central Montana with fewer than 1,000 residents.

The people of White Sulphur Springs have ridden the wave of economic boom and bust over the decades but have managed to hang on to the core of the town. Now a mining company wants to develop a copper deposit and bring 200 jobs to the region. But the site sits near tributaries of the Smith River, and people around Montana are concerned the copper mine could damage the scenic waterway.

Ben Forkin of White Sulphur Springs works in his gunsmith shop. (Photo by Charlie Ebbers)

 “I think the viewers will learn that when it comes to the environment, things aren't as cut-and-dried as they may seem,” said Holly Sinnema, a UM journalism senior from Bozeman who wrote and co-produced the program. “Yes, the mine project poses environmental risks, but White Sulphur desperately needs something to put life back in its economy. There's a lot of gray in issues like this, and I think that's something the audience will take away from the show.” 

“Changing Home” shows the dilemma facing the people of White Sulphur Springs who are eager for an economic boost and just as eager to protect the Smith. The program steps into the lives of the people affected by the proposal and shows how this latest challenge fits into the roller-coaster economic history of Meagher County.

The program is dedicated to Kalee Scolatti, a UM journalism graduate who worked as the news director at ABC/FOX in Missoula until she died earlier this month. 

Contact: Denise Dowling, associate professor and chair, UM Radio-Television Department, 406-243-4143,