MISSOULA – Until spring semester 2015, University of Montana senior Kolby KickingWoman had not written a long-form feature during his time at the School of Journalism, focusing instead on short stories mostly about sports. Six months later, his first long-form story tied for 17th place in the Feature Writing competition of the prominent Hearst Journalism Awards.
The Hearst Journalism Awards are the most prestigious student journalism awards nationally. The story KickingWoman wrote was for the spring 2015 Native News project, a class that sends teams of journalism students – a writer paired with a photographer – out to each of Montana’s American Indian reservations.
Reporting from the Blackfeet Indian Reservation, KickingWoman and his partner, photographer Celia Talbot Tobin, told the stories of tribal members navigating questions of sexual and gender identity. One storyline followed a transgender teen attending her first prom.
“I had a lot of fun doing that story,” KickingWoman said. He is pleased to have won an award for a piece where he found both the subject matter and the length of the writing to be a challenge. “It was kind of outside my comfort zone.”
Tobin said KickingWoman’s personality helped them access the student and earn trust, allowing for a good feature story. She described KickingWoman as easy-going and sensitive to her needs as a photographer.
“He’s a really good people person, which came in handy a lot as I was trying to be invisible and photograph and film people,” Tobin said. “He is really, really good at engaging with subjects, being interested in them.”
As a graduate student with a background in freelance photography, Tobin enjoyed watching someone with experience writing shorter pieces weave a compelling narrative of this length.
“I think it’s a strong story and a really unique one that hasn’t been told before,” Tobin said.
KickingWoman grew up in Missoula, but his father is from Browning. It was rewarding to place in the Hearst awards with a story representing the Blackfeet Nation, he said.
To read KickingWoman’s story, view Tobin’s photos and learn more about the Native News project, visit http://nativenews.jour.umt.edu/2015/growing-up-coming-out-navigating-sexual-and-gender-identity-as-a-youth-on-the-blackfeet-reservation/.