University News

Alum Spotlight: Recent Journalism Graduates Explore Big Sky, Mont.

May 9, 2024

Jack Reaney ’22 and Jen Clancey ’23 entered Denison with plans to study and find careers in economics and psychology, respectively. Just a few years later, they’re working together at Explore Big Sky, a news outlet in Big Sky, Montana, reporting on a small mountain community both of them have grown to call home.

A chance opportunity leads to career pivot

Reaney, who graduated with a double major in economics and creative writing, needed one more English class during his senior year and stumbled into Jack Shuler’s literary journalism class. Journalism had never crossed his mind as a career path, but he dove in headfirst, covering Granville’s Halloween festivities. Shuler quickly noticed Reaney’s potential and recommended he try an internship with the local Newark Advocate. In his last year at Denison, Reaney discovered a whole new world of writing.

“Creative writing taught me how to use the language, but I just didn’t really understand what to say with it,” Reaney says. “Suddenly, in journalism, I realized that you get to help other people tell their stories using our shared gift of the power of language.”

As graduation approached, Reaney dove further into journalism, working with the campus newspaper, the Denisonian, and continuing his internship with the Advocate. He also enrolled in more journalism courses and published four stories before graduation. Quickly, the idea of a career in journalism became more than just a possibility.

“Doug Swift, Jack Shuler, and journalist Molly Born all encouraged me, even though I had just months before graduation. That’s what really got me prepared, I think,” Reany says. “I felt so fearless during my senior year, just trying something completely new, and I had a feeling for the first time at this stage of adult life like I’m on to something — you know, like this feels right.”

Journalism enhances other majors

Clancey found her academic path through the narrative journalism concentration, where she quickly fell in love with her classes and formed connections within the journalism program. Her psychology major paired well with the concentration, helping her better understand how to translate conversation into story.

Clancy says Denison helped “create that world of journalism for me, and it infiltrated every part of life. I just became obsessed with breaking things down and being able to tell stories to anyone who picks up a paper.”

She credits her summer internship with The Reporting Project — Denison’s nonprofit news source for in-depth articles covering local news — with helping her develop skills in community journalism. With time to focus solely on stories around Licking County, she gained a sense of the power of local reporting and relationships.

“Through that and throughout my senior year reporting on Intel’s new plant in Licking County, I learned just how many perspectives there are in a small community. I also learned that it was possible I misjudged central Ohio, and I don’t want to do that ever again, in any place. It really opened my eyes to just getting in there and listening,” she says.

Post-graduation path led to Big Sky country

During his senior year spring break, Reaney traveled to Bozeman, Montana, to build career networks. His efforts paid off. After graduation, he applied for and got a staff writer position at Explore Big Sky, and drove out to Montana in September.

These days he’s moved up to an associate editor position and covers anything and everything, from high school basketball games to the local government.

When Explore Big Sky had another job opening for a digital producer in the spring of 2023, journalism assistant director Beth Lossing — whom Reaney calls a “one-woman career center” — shared the opportunity with Clancey, who jumped at the chance to report on a smaller town. She contacted Reaney, had a final interview the week before graduation, and moved out to Montana in late July. Nearly a year into the position, she’s never bored.

“You just learn about all the places that life takes people, and it’s so comforting,” Clancey says. “I just interviewed an author, and she had written her first book at 50 years old. It’s so cool to push yourself and go into situations where you’re connecting with somebody else so they can also get important stories out into the community.”

Clancey and Reaney both attribute their job success after graduation to being proactive with their networking and to leaning into Denison’s journalism program throughout their college career. Now, they have the opportunity to hone their passion, helping to fill the gap of small community reporting and making meaningful connections across Big Sky.

The 4 students in the video L to R are Jen Clancey, Jack Reaney, and then our Journalism fellows Sophie LeMay and Emily Walker.

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