Storytelling

Turning Radio PSAs Into Fun, Shareable Content

Attendance Matters PSA Attending school each day is important. Kids who show up are more likely to get good grades, graduate, and even have better jobs as adults.

As part of an Attendance Matters campaign, I created a press kit for school districts to help spread this important message. A key component of this was working with kids to record radio public service announcements.

Sophia explains that high school graduates live longer, so she has a lot to accomplish in 75 years.

Montana Graduation And Dropout Report

The 2015 Graduation and Dropout Report uses storytelling, photography and data to walk through how five years of Graduation Matters Montana has resulted in record-high graduation rates.

6 Nuggets Of Multimedia-Reporting Wisdom…And What Comes Next

IMG_0454It’s my last day at Boise State Public Radio, and my last day (for now) working in public media. I’ve grown and learned so much over the last decade in public radio. And I know for sure the future is bright for public radio stations across the country.

Thanks, Idaho, for listening, for your support, and for helping me grow!

Here are six little pieces of wisdom I left my Boise State Public Radio newsroom colleagues. These are tailored to digital journalism, but really, these nuggets can apply to so many other worlds.

  1. Never publish your first headline. Headlines are mini works-of-art; take your time, write a bunch, riff with someone. Your headline is the window to your story. Sell it!
  2. Plan out the best way to visualize your post. Every story is different. Is it a visual story? Should you rely on photos/video? Should you use sub-heads? What about charts or maps? Let the contents of the story direct how you’ll present it. It won’t be the same each time.
  3. Pretend like you’re a copy editor. Go through each post with a fine-toothed comb to make sure you don’t have silly spelling errors or grammar mistakes. If what’s written doesn’t really make sense to you, the editor, it won’t make sense to someone else.
  4. Sell your content. Don’t assume people will just stumble upon your brilliant post on their own. Use Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc. — whatever tool works best — to drive eyes to your content. Remember that old saying, “if a tree falls in the forest…..”
  5. Pay attention to details. Double check how your story is categorized, tagged, add external links, and related content.
  6. Experiment. You won’t break the Internet. Digital journalism is changing rapidly. Don’t be afraid to try new tools. See what works. Learn from mistakes. Make it better the next time. Have fun!
As for what’s next, starting later this month I’ll be the Communications Director for Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau.

Extension Of ‘Secure Rural Schools’ Means Rural Counties Can Breathe Easy…For Now

This story aired May 7, 2015 on NPR’s All Things Considered

President Barack Obama has signed a $200 billion Medicare bill that reforms payments to physicians. Tucked inside that massive Medicare bill was a two-year extension of the Secure Rural Schools Act, a federal program that pays rural counties and school districts with a lot of non-taxable forest land.

Secure Rural Schools was first approved by Congress in 2000. Since then, it’s been paying counties that have a lot of federal timber land because local governments can’t make money on that land. It’s not taxable. You can’t develop much of it.

Map: Montana’s Uninsured Rates By County

Montana UninsuredMontana’s share of uninsured people declined by 1.6 percent, from 21.6 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2013. Even with the decline, Montana was among the top 10 U.S. states with the highest rate of uninsured people.

The U.S. Census Bureau released this week its Small Area Health Insurance Estimates for 2013. The data doesn’t yet reflect an anticipated decline to the uninsured rate because of the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchange subsidies that became available in 2014.

The Census data show 40 of Montana’s 56 counties still have an uninsured rate that is higher than the state average. In 18 counties, more than a quarter of Montanans under the age of 64 were uninsured.

Garfield County had the largest share of people without health insurance, Lewis and Clark County had the smallest.

Click around the map to see how your county stacks up.

Data: U.S. Census Bureau | Map: Emilie Ritter Saunders

Highest uninsured rates by Montana county:

  1. Garfield County, 32
  2. McCone County, 31.4
  3. Golden Valley County, 30.8
  4. Sanders County, 30
  5. Glacier County, 29.8
  6. Carter County, 29.2
  7. Blaine County, 29.1
  8. Lake County, 28.6
  9. Big Horn County, 28.5
  10. Wheatland County, 27.9

A recent Gallup poll finds Montana’s uninsured rate has dropped more than most since the Affordable Care Act was fully implemented.

More than 48,000 Montanans have signed up for coverage through the federal health insurance exchange.

Montana, like Idaho, hasn’t expanded Medicaid to provide health insurance coverage to more low-income adults.

See how Idaho compares, here.

Loss Of Federal Timber Payments Mean Tough Choices For Rural Schools

Warren Barnes teaches music at Basin Elementary and Idaho City High School. Barnes works with this preschool class during his prep period. (Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders)

Warren Barnes teaches music at Basin Elementary and Idaho City High School. Barnes works with this preschool class during his prep period. (Credit: Emilie Ritter Saunders)

This story aired on NPR’s All Things Considered March 12, 2015.

The Basin School District in Idaho City has something most districts in the state don’t, preschool.

On Wednesdays, 12 preschoolers leave their small house-turned-school and walk across the playground to the high school’s music room. The children sit cross-legged in a circle and the music teacher hands out two brightly-colored sticks to each student. Music class for these preschoolers is all about rhythm, following directions, and giggling.

Idaho doesn’t have public preschool, and schools that want to offer it, have to find creative ways to pay for the program. State money isn’t an option.

Over the last 15 years, the Basin School District has paid for their unique preschool program with a grant, a voter-approved levy, some tuition, fundraisers, and federal Secure Rural Schools act money.

“I don’t know how the program could be reduced any more than it already is,” says teacher Mary Allen. “It’s already only two days a week.”

Basin’s entire budget is about $3 million. It’s taking a double hit because its levy funds runs out next year and it’ll lose Secure Rural Schools Act money.

Congress has allowed the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act to expire. Rural counties across the country now have $250 million less to work with.

In Crisis: Idaho Police, Social Workers On The Front Lines Of Mental Health

Philip Mazeikas, mobile crisis, mental health Philip Mazeikas has schizophrenia and was aided two years ago by a Mobile Crisis Unit. His parents had called police, seriously concerned about their son. The crisis unit's visit was the first step in getting Mazeikas the help and medication he needed. [Credit Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman]

Philip Mazeikas, mobile crisis, mental health
Philip Mazeikas has schizophrenia and was aided two years ago by a Mobile Crisis Unit. His parents had called police, seriously concerned about their son. The crisis unit’s visit was the first step in getting Mazeikas the help and medication he needed.
[Credit Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman]

This story published in the Idaho Statesman and was broadcast on Boise State Public Radio’s KBSX 91.5 FM Oct. 28, 2014. See the entire series, here.

Two years ago, Philip Mazeikas answered the front door of his family home. The course of his life changed when he opened it.

At 24-years-old, Mazeikas found himself in the middle of his first psychotic episode. He thought he’d been contacted by aliens who were using him in a scheme to control the world. He wasn’t eating well. He was drinking his own urine.

“I was storming around the house, really angry, when I heard a knock at the door,” Mazeikas recalls. “I remember thinking to myself, stay cool, act normal, whatever you do, don’t say anything about aliens, because they’ll think you’re crazy.”

In Crisis: Idaho Medicaid In Flux Causes A Big Shift In Care

Kendra sits with her community based rehabilitation worker Jennifer Beason working on her feelings journal during her last CBRS appointment. [Katherine Jones | Idaho Statesman]

Kendra sits with her community based rehabilitation worker Jennifer Beason working on her feelings journal during her last CBRS appointment. [Katherine Jones | Idaho Statesman]


This story was published in the Idaho Statesman and broadcast on Boise State Public Radio KBSX 91.5 FM Oct. 30, 2014. See the entire series, here.

Nine-year-old Kendra sits in one of the private rooms on the second floor of Boise’s Downtown public library with her community-based rehabilitation services worker, Jennifer Beason.

Beason slides a workbook to Kendra. It is what she calls her feelings journal. “Do you know what relieved is?” she asked.

Without missing a beat, Kendra rattles off examples of feeling relieved.

“Like you forgot to bring home a paper, a really, really important paper, and then you brought it home, but you left it in your backpack and you thought you left it at school,” she said. “And then you’re relieved you still have it.”

For a year and a half, Kendra and Beason have spent about four hours each week developing social and personal skills Kendra falls short on because of a tumultuous start to her life.

By the time she was 3, Kendra was in a foster home, removed from her biological parents because of severe abuse and neglect.

“No child should go through what she went through,” said Kendra’s adoptive mother, Ginger Kreiter. “Because of what she went through, it put her in severe trauma. She had no coping skills with your ordinary life.”

Are You A Native Montanan? Most Montana Residents Are

My great grandparents, Cornelius and Mary Ritter, moved to Montana from South Dakota and Wisconsin sometime before 1913 when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Dick Ritter, would be born two years later in Great Falls, Montana.

My great grandparents, Cornelius and Mary Ritter, moved to Montana from South Dakota and Wisconsin sometime before 1913 when this photo was taken. My grandfather, Dick Ritter, would be born two years later in Great Falls, Montana.

An interesting data visualization from The New York Times shows the majority of the people living in Montana were born there.

The Times created this chart (and one for each state) showing state-to-state migration going back to 1900. At the turn of the 20th century, many of the people living in Montana were born outside of the United States, that’s not a big surprise given the westward migration of some foreigners who headed to Big Sky Country in search of striking it rich on gold, copper, and other natural resources.

By 1950, the majority of the people living in Montana were born there. The share of native-born Montanans peaked in 1970 at 61 percent. By 2012, 54 percent of the people living in Montana could call themselves native. By contrast, less than half the population of Idaho are natives.

Like other western states, the bulk of the people moving in to Montana are from California, Washington, and Oregon.

My paternal great-grandparents moved to Montana sometime before 1913. It’s not clear when my maternal great-grandparents arrived in Montana from Ireland, family history shows it was sometime around 1920.