MISSOULA – University of Montana School of Journalism graduate Kaci Felstet recently placed sixth in the prestigious national Hearst Journalism Awards Program in the Multimedia One/Features category. Felstet’s piece, “Late Start,” was produced this past spring as part of the Native News Project, co-taught by Assistant Professor Jason Begay and Associate Professor Jeremy Lurgio.
“Late Start” tackles attendance issues at Rocky Boy’s Elementary School, located in the center of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation in north-central Montana. Originally, Felstet and her reporting partner, Courtney Anderson, had been researching teacher-retention rates, but realized the story’s core remained with the students.
“Kids weren’t getting the education that they needed,” Felstet said. “And that was something really close to our hearts.”
Begay and Lurgio chose the theme “Relationships” for their class in spring 2015. They challenged students to find unique, personal bonds that explored how people on reservations connect with each other, Begay said.
“It left a lot of room for us to branch out and find our own stories,” Felstet said.
She and Anderson traveled to the Rocky Boy’s Reservation during spring break and spent several days following their characters and gathering classroom footage at the elementary school. Felstet said the kindergarteners needed some time to get used to the cameras and stop making funny faces at them, but their patience paid off in the end.
“The hardest thing is that you can’t go back,” Felstet said. “You have to get everything you need in three or four days.”
That was where working as a team came in handy. Despite extensive background research and planning, Felstet and Anderson knew they need to stay both flexible and focused while in the field so they could find the true story, even if it was different from the one they had envisioned.
“Kaci was very organized. She knew what she needed, and she got enough to be able to adapt,” Lurgio said.
Felstet’s first exposure to video came from a summer internship with KRTV in her hometown of Great Falls, but she considers herself more of a photojournalist these days. She’s currently pursuing a master’s degree in economics at UM, which will not only diversify her education but also open up new doors to her as a journalist, especially regarding business and finance beats.
To stay familiar with her camera, Felstet decided to create a photo-a-week challenge for herself to keep her creativity fresh. The recent recognition of “Late Start” serves as another boost from the journalism world.
“Kaci has a great eye for shooting and producing multimedia packages,” Lurgio said. “She works extremely hard, and she was very dedicated to producing a professional caliber story. And that’s just what she did.”
Felstet and Anderson’s collaborative piece can be found on the Native News Project website at http://nativenews.jour.umt.edu/2015/, which features more stories from reservations in Montana.
Founded in 1914, UM’s School of Journalism is now in its second century of preparing students to think critically, act ethically and communicate effectively. The Radio Television Digital News Association recently named it one of the top 10 journalism programs in the country. For more information visit http://jour.umt.edu/.