Story by Forrest Welk, photos by John Collins
Editor’s note: This is the second in a five-part series of posts written by Charles Snowden Excellence in Journalism interns. Read the first post in the series, “Developing my T-shaped skills at OPB” by Shirley Chan.
The Baker City Herald taught me to escape my bubble.
Sure, that’s been my goal ever since I applied to the UO School of Journalism and Communication. But I couldn’t get to that next level without actual newsroom experience.
Beginning in June, I’ve worked as a Snowden reporter intern at the Herald. This town of under 10,000 people gave me the outlet I needed to engage with a community at a meaningful level. My new landlord told me Baker City offered more than I might expect. Admittedly, I responded to that comment with inward skepticism.
I was also questioning my own abilities.
From what I’ve seen, there are at least two types of people in journalism. Some go into it as introverted writers looking to make it a career. Others love talking to people, but maybe they’re less skilled with a pen. I was one of the former.
At the beginning of my internship, my interviews were rehearsed. I knew what I wanted to ask — every J-student is drilled on the four W’s, after all. But something was lacking. The conversations didn’t flow naturally, no matter how hard I tried to stray from my prepared list.
What turned things around was the people I talked to. Instead of punishing me with judgmental wrath like I expected, most of my interviewees shrugged off obvious questions and gladly explained things to me.
I became more confident. My stories included talking to a Buddhist priest, shadowing a demolition derby driver and meeting a family whose baby almost choked to death. By the end of my internship, I looked forward to meeting new faces.
My last assignment involved visiting the Rail Fire camp in Unity, Oregon. The firefighters were sharing a school campus with high schoolers. Amid the supply trucks and scrambling workers, a football team was practicing for the upcoming season. And there I was the middle of the huddle. I was sans football padding, mind you. But more important, I wasn’t clinging to a list of questions. (For the record, there’s nothing wrong with writing out a few questions to cover your bases.)
Instead of shying away like I might have 10 weeks ago, I was a full participant in a conversation that was full of life and jest. They had accepted me. The same was true for the firefighters. I talked to two sleep-deprived medics who worked the night shift and were more than happy to see someone from the outside world.
I never lost my love for writing about people. This newfound confidence just made that process easier.
Jayson Jacoby, my editor, was the next person who injected me with journalistic vigor.
We went over detailed feedback for maybe my first two stories. After that, he cut me loose. I could write, he told me. But Jayson would push me to get the most I could out of this internship, and he often did that by not saying a word — by letting me figure out solutions myself.
I couldn’t be more grateful for the locale and coworkers I ended up with.
I’ll miss the Baker City Herald, but it won’t be far away. Before the conclusion of my internship, I accepted a position as a sports reporter at The Observer in La Grande.
The Herald’s sister paper is about 45 miles from Baker City. I never thought I would call eastern Oregon my long-term home, but here I am. And I never would have gotten here if I hadn’t stumbled upon Baker City. I guess it is true — small towns are full of surprises.
Forrest Welk is journalist who graduated from the SOJC in spring 2016. He is currently a Charles Snowden reporter intern at the Baker City Herald and will soon be a sports reporter and outdoor editor at The Observer. He’s previously produced student work as an administration reporter at the Daily Emerald. On the magazine side, he’s written and edited features at Ethos magazine and Flux magazine. When Forrest isn’t writing, he might be seeking out the nearest pinball machine or running for recreation. You can view his work at forrestwelk.com and follow him on Twitter @forrestwelk.