UM Journalism Student Wins National Multimedia Championship

June 11, 2020

Recent UM graduate Jiakai Lou won a national championship in the multimedia portion of the Hearst Journalism Awards Program. MISSOULA – Jiakai “JK” Lou, a student in UM's School of Journalism, was named the overall national multimedia champion of the annual Hearst Journalism Awards Program on June 5.

Often described as the college Pulitzers, the Hearst competition involves 104 accredited member universities of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication. Lou’s award comes with a $10,000 first prize.

An international student from Zhejiang province, China, he won the top award for a 6-minute film titled “A Quarantine Story about Jiakai Lou.” The piece describes his inability to return home and struggle with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is online at https://bit.ly/2zjzHAu.

“I do know a few things,” Lou said in the video. “Through all this uncertainty, we are all the same no matter where we are from. We all have mothers and friends and want to be the best for ourselves and those that we love.”

Contest judge Brian Storm, founder of MediaStorm, said, "Jiakai’s film is an intimate view of one man’s coping with quarantine. His talent as a filmmaker is evident throughout the film as he shares his personal experience of being far from home and those he loves the most."

Jeremy Lurgio, a UM associate professor of photojournalism and multimedia, said he speaks for all faculty members in the journalism school when he says Lou was a joy to work and collaborate with.

“We are so incredibly proud of Jiakai and all of the amazing work he has done during his tenure at the School of Journalism – both in class, out of class and for the Montana Kaimin [student newspaper],” Lurgio said. “Winning the national championship is a huge honor and accomplishment for him – a testament to his hard work and talent.”

Lurgio said Jiakai possesses great vision and creativity in his video storytelling.

“He is an incredibly humble, dedicated, hard-working, compassionate and talented student and journalist,” Lurgio said. “The sky is the limit for this young man.”

Lou earned a chance to compete for the Hearst multimedia championship by winning an earlier tier of the competition (and $3,000) with his documentary “32 Below,” an intimate look into the hard work, dedication and passion of one ranching family as they tend their cows and calves in Helmville during the depth of winter. The film was selected for the annual Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula this past winter, and the Kaimin has it online at https://bit.ly/2YpVtej.

Lou said he came to Montana for the outdoor activities and American western lifestyle. At first, he didn’t know what to study at UM, but he soon rediscovered his love for documentaries.

“I gradually found my passion for visual storytelling when I was a sophomore,” he said. “Then I heard the School of Journalism at UM is one of the best in the country. I decided to dive in.”

Lou began his mini-doc as a project in a class taught by last spring’s distinguished T. Anthony Pollner Professor Preston Gannaway. The class focused on in-depth, long-form journalism and took place during a historically cold winter.

 “I was wondering what ranchers were doing in that cold weather,” Lou said. “I heard from an old friend that ranchers in Montana were preparing for the upcoming calving season. It soon caught my attention and made me think of documenting it for my class project.”

This was the 60th year of the Hearst Journalism Awards Program. UM School of Journalism students placed in the top 10 in four categories and in the top 20 in four more competitions. More information is online at https://bit.ly/3cSSSig.

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Contact: Jeremy Lurgio, associate professor of photojournalism and multimedia, UM School of Journalism, 406-243-2601, jeremy.lurgio@umontana.edu.