UM Graduate Program Awarded $500K for Environmental Journalism

Breanna McCabe, a UM graduate student in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism, films footage in the Canadian Rockies for her Crown Reporting Project while working on a documentary about efforts to save whitebark pine, an alpine tree threatened by climate change and disease. McCabe’s mentor was Chris Johns, former editor-in-chief for National Geographic.

MISSOULA – The University of Montana School of Journalism has received a $500,000 grant to support UM’s graduate program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism.

The 2021 Journalism Impact Grant comes from a donor-advised fund at the Orange County Community Foundation in Orange County, Calif., and bolsters the journalism school’s signature Crown Reporting Fellowship. The grant also provides scholarship and recruiting support aimed at extending the reach and reputation of the School of Journalism’s growing graduate program.

“This fabulous gift recognizes the strength of UM’s interdisciplinary approach to training the professional journalists and science communicators of tomorrow,” said Nadia White, director of the graduate program and a journalism associate professor.

Since its inception in 2010, the UM master’s program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism has trained journalists to report on and contribute to civil discourse focused on human impacts on the natural world and nature’s impacts on human communities. Graduates are working at newspapers, online news sites and public radio newsrooms across the country, as well as serving as science communicators in numerous universities and colleges.

The best of that work has been supported by the Crown Reporting Fellowship. Started in 2015 by Roger and Libby Smith to honor the memory of conservationist Ted Smith, the Crown Reporting Fellowship is a story-pitch competition coupled with mentorship and a networking event.

Each year, students with winning environmental story ideas are matched with mentors who shepherd the stories to completion and publication. Mentors have come from The New York Times, National Public Radio, National Geographic and a variety of top-flight environmental publications and broadcast outlets. 

Crown Reporting Fellowship projects have aired on or appeared in National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” Montana Public Television, Montana Public Radio, High Country News and Undark Magazine, among other publications. The 2021 Journalism Impact Grant ensures the Crown Reporting Fellowship program and the annual Crown Dinner will continue engaging student journalists and mentors and building relationships across the region known as the Crown of the Continent.

The Journalism Impact Grant also will be used to:

  • Provide scholarships to incoming and current graduate students.
  • Prepare journalists to cover news occurring in extreme situations.

With this grant, the School of Journalism will become a training ground for journalists and students who cover climate change, destructive weather events, human migration, environmental disruption and armed conflicts over limited natural resources.

“We look on this grant as a vote of confidence in Nadia White’s dedication and vision for our graduate program,” said Denise Dowling, director of the School of Journalism and a journalism professor. “We’re grateful for the ability to continue our already-successful Crown Fellowship, which brings top-notch grad students to UM. I’m particularly excited the grant will allow us to expand the curriculum to prepare student reporters and professionals covering extreme situations.”

The journalism graduate program focuses on environment and science reporting. It is expanding to include an environmental public health reporting track. It also offers forward-thinking undergraduate journalism majors the opportunity to earn their master’s degree in just one additional year through the school’s 4+1 master’s degree opportunity.

To make a gift to the UM Foundation in support of the School of Journalism, visit or contact Beth Cogswell, director of development at the School of Journalism, at or call 406-360-2696.

The UM Foundation is an independent nonprofit organization that has inspired philanthropic support to enhance excellence and opportunity at UM since 1950.


Contact: Denise Dowling, director, UM School of Journalism, 406-243-5250,; Nadia White, director, UM Master’s Program in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism, 406-529-9839,