Friday, August 10, 2007

Best assignment ever

I gave Capital Press intern-for-the-day Suzanna Schuck an assignment to write a blog post about her experience covering a story for a newspaper and being published online on a newspaper’s website. After some thought, I decided to give myself the same assignment. So here is my post about my impressions of working with our intern for the day.

When the day started – Friday, Aug. 3, 2007 – I was excited about heading to Portland to cover an event where produce grown by farmers in Hermiston, Ore., was being handed out -- including world famous Hermiston watermelons -- to folks in downtown.

It was exciting for many reasons. One is that I normally fly a desk in my job and don't get out of the office to cover stories very often. Normally that's just fine by me. Although I started out as a photographer and became a writer/reporter, I hung up my camera and notepad long ago to do the behind-the-scenes work. It was hard at first, but I grew to enjoy it. But every now and then it's nice to see if I can still think on my feet when out in the field.

As for coverage of Friday's event, I decided I was going to try something that is new for me, which is shooting video. So I played the role of multimedia reporter, shooting moving pictures and recording sounds.

But I knew my little experiment could be a complete bust if I messed up with the video camera or the digital audio recorder. Fortunately, I was able to find someone to help me out -- the Capital Press intern for the day, Suzanna Schuck.

That's what made the day especially exciting for me, because Suzanna is also my daughter. And this was our first opportunity to work together in an area where we have shared interests -- writing and media.

On this day I turned the notebook and still digital camera over to Suzanna.

We arrived on-scene for our assignment at 11 a.m., about an hour before the scheduled start. The watermelons, potatoes and cantaloupes were all gone by 1 p.m. And after a return to our "field office" and brief pause for lunch, Suzanna set to work writing her story. She and I reviewed some of the audio I had recorded to choose quotes to include in her story. And after a final edit, the story it was posted shortly before 4:30.

Most people who know Capital Press know it as a printed newspaper, which comes out on Fridays. So, ordinarily, covering an event on a Friday would mean that story can't get out to readers until the following Friday. But Suzanna was able to get a story covered and written before some of our print readers probably even had a chance to read the story previewing the event in the newspaper that was waiting for them in their mailbox -- if the U.S. Postal Service managed to get it to them Friday.

Suzanna has also been assigned to write a blog post about her experience and I admit I will be anxious to read what she has to say. I know she’s been working on it, but it isn’t quite a done deal yet. But speaking only for myself and my experience, it was a particularly poignant day. It was a day that gave me a glimpse at the past. Several of the people Suzanna and I talked to Friday were people I used to cover back in the early 1990s as a reporter for the East Oregonian and editor of the Hermiston Herald. The one and only other time I ever covered the Hermiston watermelon giveaway in Portland was back in those days.

Back then in 1992, Frank Harkenrider, who was there in the square Friday, was mayor of Hermiston, and DuWayne White, who hauled a pickup load of produce for this year’s event and helped with the distribution, was on the city council all those years ago. I believe, and my memory may be a bit faulty on the timing for this, but I believe the current mayor, Bob Severson, who served as master of ceremonies Friday, and current councilman Rod Hardin, who was also there, were on the city's planning commission back them.

And Suzanna was barely a year old.

I got to see some of the future as well. I met three young farmers who are fourth-generation watermelon growers -- Brianna, Christie and Chandi Walker who farm near Stanfield -- who are proudly carrying on their family's tradition.

And I saw some of the future of media as well, as journalists, regardless of their primary medium, were covering the event, like Suzanna and I were, with a variety of tools to capture words, photographs, sound and video.

A lot has changed since Frank Harkenrider and some folks from Hermiston starting what is now a tradition of hauling produce to Portland every summer. People have changed hats and changed roles. New people have come onto the scene and new generations have taken more active roles. Children have grown. Time has marched on.

I was glad to see first-hand that the tradition of giving away Hermiston produce has continued and grown over the years. But mostly I feel fortunate to be able to have shared some of my chosen profession with Suzanna.

For many years, our time together was limited because my chosen vocation took me far from home and family. That's one "tradition" I am happy to say has been put to rest. On Friday, what I do for a living and the Eastern Oregon roots Suzanna and I share, gave us a chance to work together and collaborate on a story about people giving to others. We saw lots of smiling faces as hundreds of people, perhaps more than a thousand, got a gift from the good farmers and folks of Umatilla County.

But I feel like I got the biggest give of all. A day sharing what I love with the person I love most in this world.

And Suzanna, thanks for your help. You did a great job. Of course my opinion is biased. As much as I worked with Suzanna on her story as an editor, the part of me that is a proud father far overwhelmed any journalistic objectivity I tried to maintain about her final work. In the end, I turned over her story and photographs to the other editors on the Capital Press staff to decide what, if anything, to do with them for any of our print editions.

Suzanna’s story and photographs appeared in two of the four editions of Capital Press for Aug. 10, 2007 – the two that circulate in Oregon. I also got a call from the publisher of our sister paper, the East Oregonian in Pendleton, who saw the photos we posted online. He wanted to know if he could use a Capital Press photo in a column he is planning for the weekend – one of Suzanna’s photos.

Knowing that Suzanna’s work was about to be published in a print newspaper reminded me of the first time I had my work published, which happened when I was in high school in Eastern Oregon. I got to know the sports editor of the local weekly paper, the Hermiston Herald, when we were both taking photographs at sports events – he for his paper and me for my high school’s yearbook. The sports editor, Bill Bighaus, was planning to do a story on two tennis players from my school, but he didn’t have a photo of them playing. He asked if I had any pictures of them, which I did. He published my first photograph several days later. It was the spring of my senior year in high school and I was 18.

Now Suzanna will experience that same rush of pride at seeing her name in print in a “real” newspaper for the first time. But it will not just be one photo, it will be several. And a story. And her work will appear in three editions of two newspapers and on at least two different websites. All that at age 16 in the summer before her junior year in high school. She bested the old man by a mile and by nearly two years. And I couldn’t be more proud to be shown up by my daughter.

That’s not to say I hope she will, nor would necessarily want her to, pursue what has been my career and turn this news thing into a family tradition. There are better paying fields out there for someone with the talents she has and is developing. But I am very happy that we got a chance to work together and be brought together by interests that at one time, when they were only my interests, contributed to keeping us apart. Fortunately a couple of years ago I was able to find a job that will allow me to do what I do a lot closer to where she lives that gives us the opportunity to spend more time together and see each other more often. And on Friday, Aug. 3, it also gave me the opportunity to work with her, try to teach her a few things and in return learn so much more about her and her interests and talents.

It all made for one of the best days I’ve ever had working and one of the proudest days I’ve ever had as a parent. Through my chosen vocation I have met a former president, covered presidential candidates, interviewed and photographed politicians, captains of industry and celebrities. I've covered Pac-10 athletics, professional rodeo and NBA basketball. But no assignment means more to me than the one I covered with my daughter and for which she got the byline and photo credits. Thanks for working with me, Suzanna. I had a great time.

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