By Kelly Mulcaire, UM News Service
MISSOULA – University of Montana graduate Clarise Larson didn’t become a journalist by accident, saying she was drawn to the craft long before enrolling in her first class in the School of Journalism.
“I’ve always had a really deep love for writing and a curiosity to learn more about other people and their lives,” Larson said.
This drive to tell compelling stories came to the fore often during her studies at UM, including her time as an editor for the student newspaper, the Kaimin, and the pieces she produced in classes.
One of those stories, written for the Native News Honors Project, recently earned Larson second place in the Feature Writing Competition of the prestigious 2022-23 Hearst Journalism Awards Program. It was one of 150 entries from 82 schools nationwide.
“I am beyond grateful and honored that the piece gained recognition – it truly was a team effort beyond just the words I wrote,” Larson said. “I couldn't have done it without my peers and professors guiding me through the story and aiding me in the writing and reporting process.”
Growing up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, Larson cultivated an interest in the arts and the outdoors, both of which made UM particularly appealing.
Despite no connection to Missoula, she made a trip to UM with her mom and soon it became clear her intuition had guided her to the right place.
“We were walking on the Oval, and I saw the journalism building and I was like, ‘No way – I can’t believe they have a whole building for journalism,’” she said.
Larson firmly cemented herself in the University’s journalism ecosystem. She loaded up on capstone courses and served as the Kaimin’s Arts and Culture editor, as well as its resident astrological authority, writing weekly tongue-in-cheek horoscopes for the publication.
“A lot of people knew me as Clare the horoscope girl,” she joked.
As part of the Native News Honors Project, Larson and fellow students were assigned a Montana reservation to explore for news topics of importance. They had to find their own story, find their own sources and make a trip to the community.
Larson and photographer Van Fisher were tasked with reporting on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.
“I was so stoked, but I had no idea what I was going to do,” Larson said. She managed to get an interview with a firefighter from the reservation. A fleeting comment on wildfires and coal seams caught Larson’s attention. She wanted to find out more.
“I didn’t see deep research on the impact and what it meant for communities and how it’s affecting people who own the land with coal seams,” she said.
Larson and Fisher made the seven-hour drive from Missoula to the reservation to investigate the relationship between wildfires and coal seams. Upon arrival, the pair put their J-school education to use.
“We just started sprinting around trying to get people to talk to us,” Larson said. “It was like real-life journalism.”
She interviewed fire officials, ranchers and geologists for the story, a comprehensive look at the realities of living with devastating wildfires fueled by climate change.
After graduating from UM in May – she minored in Chinese and was president of the Chinese language student club – Larson accepted a job with the Juneau Empire newspaper in Alaska. She and her dog, Bloon, set out on a four-day drive from Missoula to Skagway, where they boarded a ferry to their new city.
So far, Larson’s dream of being a professional journalist is living up to her expectations. She covers a variety of content for the paper, including the story of a Tlingit master carver gifting a dugout canoe to the village of Angoon, its first since a U.S. naval attack destroyed their fleet in 1882. Larson traveled to the small village by plane twice to cover the landmark moment.
“It was really special to be welcomed to that community,” she said. “I’m just some random kid from Minnesota, and being welcomed with open arms and having people tell me about their life and what their culture means to them, it really hit me in a spot I’ve never experienced as a reporter.”
Larson is excited to see where her career leads, but acknowledges the hard work and formative experiences from her time at UM for getting her to where she is. She cites the J-school’s motto: learn by doing.
“You have to really dive into it,” she said. “The more bylines you get, the more writing you do, the better you get. I tried to do a lot at UM, and it really paid off.”
Contact: Kelly Mulcaire, UM Office of Alumni Relations, 406-243-4658, firstname.lastname@example.org.