UM Journalism Students Cover Montana Legislature

Photo: UM journalism students Keely Larson, left to right, Caven Wade and Elinor Smith are covering the 68th Montana Legislature for scores of news organizations across the state as part of the UM Legislative News Service.

HELENA – Three University of Montana School of Journalism students are providing daily and weekly news coverage of the 68th Montana Legislature to scores of news organizations across the state this semester as part of the UM Legislative News Service.

The service distributes the student-produced coverage to more than 150 news organizations, providing the coverage since 1993. The project is made possible through a partnership of the UM School of Journalism, the Greater Montana Foundation, the Montana Broadcasters Association and Montana Newspaper Association.

A new partnership with Kaiser Health News also enabled the service to expand its coverage, adding Keely Larson, a KHN fellow and graduate student, to the team to cover how the Montana legislative session will impact health issues in the state.

“The health bills and policy changes that will be debated this session will affect the lives of all Montanans, and they deserve to know what decisions are being made in their names,” said Matt Volz, KHN Mountain States editor. “This partnership between KHN and the University of Montana aims to empower Montana citizens with that knowledge.”

Larson is joined at the Capitol by senior Caven Wade, who provides weekly written coverage to newspapers across the state, and Elinor Smith, who produces daily audio stories for Montana broadcasters.

“The UM Legislative News Service is a vital part of our members' legislative coverage," said Jim Strauss, communications & development director for the Montana Newspaper Association. “It is especially important for our weekly newspapers, which do not have the resources to have a person in Helena covering the session. In fact, some of our members rely solely on the UM reporters for their legislative coverage.”

Each week, Wade, who grew up in Helena, writes a long-form feature and concise briefs for newspapers, offering them flexibility to focus their coverage to best suit their communities.

"The UM Legislative News coverage does a great job sorting legislative news by region and topic, so our members are able to select and run the content that is most important to their readers," Strauss said.  

Smith, who hails from Boise, Idaho, hits airwaves with her broadcast stories in markets across the state, providing daily coverage for radio listeners in communities from Kalispell to Lewistown to Glendive.

“The Montana Broadcasters Association has been an underwriter of the UM Legislative News Service for many years, and it is an important service to our members providing coverage of Montana’s Legislative sessions and training students in news coverage,” said Dewey Bruce, the director of the Montana Broadcasters Association.

The training aspect of the program is especially valuable for students, said Courtney Lowery Cowgill, a School of Journalism adjunct professor who has headed the service since 2013.  

“There is no better education, on journalism or public affairs or government in general, than covering Montana’s citizen Legislature,” Cowgill said. “Students are immediately immersed in the professional Capitol press corps and learning how to understand complex policy and make it all make sense to the people it actually effects on the ground.”

Alumni of the UM Legislative News Service include Michael Wright, editor of the Bozeman Daily Chronicle; Jonathon Ambarian, senior political reporter for the Montana Television Network; Shaylee Ragar, Capitol reporter for Montana Public Radio; and Freddy Monares, producer at KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

Between broadcasters and newspapers combined, the UM Legislative News service reaches countless Montanans

“Without a doubt, UM Legislative News Service coverage reaches readers in every corner of Montana, benefiting our members and their audience,” Strauss said.

News organizations that are MBA and MNA members and wish to receive the reports can sign up online. The students’ published work is curated online.


Contact: Courtney Lowery Cowgill, director of media and engagement, adjunct professor and editor of the UM Legislative News Service, 406-214-0164,