This is not an exit

Catch you on the other side

In Uncategorized on April 29, 2011 at 7:00 am
Grand Island, just outside of Dayton, Ore.

It’s been nearly a year since I sat in a room with 13 other interns, a handful of editors and alumni from the Snowden class of 2009. It was in that orientation session that I  began my stint in what is arguably the most revered journalism training program in the state of Oregon.

The Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism is administered through the University of Oregon School of Journalism of Communication and is coordinated by Pete Peterson, who, coincidentally, was once the adviser of The Torch at Lane Community College. (For those of you just joining us, that’s the newspaper for which I’m the editor and that recently won the Society of Professional Journalists’ best in show award for Region 10.)

Every year, approximately 15 college students are sent to about 14 Oregon publications — The Register-Guard in Eugene usually takes two interns — for 10 weeks and, more or less, thrown to the wolves as reporters, photographers and copy editors. And it’s not just any internship. In any given newsroom, these individuals stand out among the others. Every time Steve Bagwell, managing editor of The Yamhill County News-Register introduced me to somebody, he’d follow my name with “yep, he’s our Snowden.”

I didn’t fully understand how big a deal it was when I applied for my internship.

Editors ask for Snowdens. Pete keeps in touch with all of us and sends mass emails when there are job opportunities in the state. And for every five messages he sends, at least one will be an editor who’s asking specifically for somebody from the program. Hell, even editors from out of state know about the program. Bob Crider of the Yakima Herald-Republic in Washington asked for a former Snowden in mid-December for a reporter position.

Editors have good reason to hold the program in high esteem. On my first day at The News-Register, I was expected to hit the ground running. I met with Steve in his office and the first thing he said was “What are you doin’ Saturday?” When I replied with a shaky “Guess I’m about to find out,” I knew it wasn’t going to be a summer full of hand-holding and coddling. And from what I hear, that’s pretty much the way every other newsroom deals with its Snowden.

To be honest, I had my reservations about working in McMinnville. For one, I grew up in the town — part of the Snowden experience is moving somewhere new for 10 weeks and getting to know the place. I had also been a bit wary of the fact that The News-Register didn’t publish daily, but twice a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After working on a weekly newspaper at Lane, I felt ready to tackle on something a bit more intense. After my first week at the paper, those apprehensions had faded completely.

Covering tractor pulls will change a man …

Yes, the paper didn’t publish as frequently as I’d wanted. And, yes, I thought McMinnville was a bit boring after having lived there for 16 years. But I was able to use my familiarity with the area to my advantage. One of my first assignments was to investigate the cutting of an old oak treejust across the street from Linfield College. I’m not kidding.

Of course, I had no problem finding the tree. I also knew a bit about the area before I set out to investigate. After all, you don’t live in a place for 16 years without picking up a thing or two. One of my next assignments for the paper was to investigate the cutting of an old redwood. Once again, not kidding. My editors and fellow reporters would joke about tree-related incidents for the next couple of weeks and I appointed myself as the paper’s official Senior Arbor Correspondent.

My stint at The News-Register gave me the rare opportunity to see my hometown and the outlying areas in a new light. I wasn’t just living in McMinnville for the summer, I was observing it. I was analyzing it. I sat in on board of commissioners meetings, followed kids doing community service, attended every summer festival in Yamhill County — I had the farmer’s tan to prove it — and drove on countless backroads with Steel Train blaring through my car speakers.

I know I said there was no hand-holding or coddling during my time at the paper, but it wouldn’t have been as easy — or as much fun — if I didn’t find a friend in Hannah Hoffman, the 2009 News-Register Snowden. She taught me the ropes of the newsroom and we spent plenty of afternoons and nights talking about journalism, Eugene — she had just graduated from the UO one year prior — and life in general.

I also had the opportunity to offer the newspaper my services as an independent contractor for a week. When the McMinnville High School football team’s new head coach over-worked players and caused them to suffer a rare muscle condition, the sports department had plenty on its plate. And with Whitney Bermes serving as the lone correspondent while the paper searched for a new sports editor, I was more than happy to extend my stay in order to help out. Sure, it meant cutting close a trip to Sunriver with a then-girlfriend, but she understood.

Now here we are, about seven months after my last day at The News-Register and a year since my first day as a Snowden intern. I’d be lying if I said the experience didn’t change me. Hell, I’d go so far as to say that the summer of 2010 was the best of my life. And this year’s intern has an even better deal than I got. Not only is Hannah still there, but fellow 2010 Snowden Ben Schorzman has been a sports reporter at the paper since the beginning of the year.

Now, while I’m sure that 10 weeks in semi-rural Yamhill County may not sound too exciting — especially when you’ve never been there before. At least I had family — it’s definitely something to remember. It was for me.

I just have one word of advice for whomever is working at The News-Register this summer: Stay away from my beat. I’ll be making a few visits home and you’d better believe I’ll notice if there’s another tree-cutting story published in the paper.

Seriously, don't mess with this shit.

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