As a student at the University of Montana School of Journalism, Jacob Baynham found inspiration in a visiting professor who pushed him to be a better writer and reporter. Now, Baynham is returning to encourage a new generation as UM’s next T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor.
After graduating in 2007, Jacob Baynham freelanced around Asia for The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek and other publications. He reported from Myanmar with a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Now he writes for magazines such as Outside, GQ, National Parks and Men’s Health. In 2020, he won a National Magazine Award in profile writing for an essay published in The Georgia Review.
“Jacob is the first alum who was taught by a Pollner professor to be selected as one, and I cannot think of a better person to hold that honor,” said Lee Banville, director of the School of Journalism. “He is such an impressive writer and thorough reporter, but he is also an empathetic editor and teacher who will be a powerful presence at the school.”
This semester he will teach a mix of undergraduates and graduate students about the art of profile writing, breaking down each component of what makes a compelling story, including interviews, research and writing. Despite the awards and his experience, Baynham said, he has a lot to live up to based on how a former Pollner professor affected him.
“I graduated from this school in 2007, and when I was a senior, I was taught by Pollner Professor Henriette Lowisch,” Baynham said. “She treated her students like professionals, and we all grew under her guidance. There are so many incredibly talented people on the list of former Pollner professors. They are big shoes to fill. I’m humbled but also excited to be working with students – to help get them excited about the power and possibilities of journalism.” In addition to his class, he will work with the student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, helping guide and edit the publication along with faculty adviser Jule Banville.
Although it is the students at the Kaimin and in his class who will benefit the most from Baynham’s presence, the general public will get its chance to hear from the journalist in September. Baynham will present a public lecture at 7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 26, in the University Center Theater. The talk is titled “Curiosity is the Cure: Journalism and Humanity in Divided Times.”
“Curiosity seems like a simple concept, but it’s actually a complicated daily discipline,” he said. “To be curious is to be open to seeing things from vastly different points of view. That's a skill that journalists have to keep sharp. It’s also a tool we all can use to have better, deeper conversations in divided times.”
The Pollner professorship was created to honor the memory of T. Anthony Pollner, a former Kaimin writer and journalism school graduate who died in a motorcycle accident. In endowing the Pollner professorship in 2001, Pollner’s parents, family and friends wanted to bring working journalists to the school to invigorate the scholarship and reporting of students and faculty members.
“Although we are now more than 20 years since the first Pollner professors came to campus, the program continues to have a tremendous impact on the lives of students here, creating connections with high-profile journalists in the field and allowing young journalists to find mentors who change their lives,” Banville said.