The journey of a journalist (Part 9A) – A SECOND INTERNSHIP IN ‘STEP LAND’
Posted on October 24th, 2009

Shelton A. Gunaratne ©2009

By “step land” I mean America, the land that adopted me. By motherland I mean Sri Lanka, the land of my birth. My claim to be a world citizen derives from my blend as a cultural mix of these two countries and, to a lesser extent, of the countries where I worked (Australia, China and Malaysia) and traveled (too numerous to mention).

As a perk for teaching journalism at the college level (at Minnesota State), the American Society of Newspaper Editors sponsored two working summer internships for me. One was at The Daily News [Longview, Wash.] in 1989. The other was at the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd. [Colombo] in 1991 on a special request.

 Doing journalism in Longview

The Daily News  [Longview, Wash] internship (July 20-Aug. 25, 1989) came up more than two decades after my internship at the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard in 1967. Longview, Wash., is only 161 miles north of Eugene, Ore., on Interstate 5 in the Pacific Northwest.

A month before I took up the internship, I flew to Portland, Ore., for a two-day (June 17-18) orientation of the Longview newspaper. Bob Gaston, managing editor of the Daily News, welcomed me at the airport and drove me to Longview to visit the newspaper building. He introduced me to the editorial staff at work and took me for lunch at Commerce Cafe, where Andre Stepankowski, the environment and volcano reporter, joined us. In the afternoon, Gaston gave me a tour of the city. He and his wife Georgiana took me out for dinner at the Longview Country Club, where City Editor Dave Rorden and his wife Janet joined us. The next morning (Sunday), I drove a Daily News car to explore the adjoining city of Kelso across the Cowlitz River. In the afternoon, Gaston brought me back to the Portland airport for my return trip.

I brought my whole family””‚including my mother and older sister Rani who were visiting me at the time””‚to Longview when I returned for the internship. We drove all the way from Minnesota to Washington in my Toyota Camry wagon, which I use to this day!

During my five-week internship, Jim Bross, the editorial page editor of The Daily News, allowed me to write three of the newspaper’s editorials:

  1. “Complaints no longer valid” (Aug. 24, 1989), which asserted: “There is no longer any compelling reason for the United States to sit on the sidelines as an observer at UNESCO. It could make a bigger contribution to the world’s well-being by actively taking part in UNESCO’s internal deliberations.”
  2. “Education reforms should be high on summit agenda” (Aug. 25) praised the education summit President Bush had called for in late September, the first domestic summit in the U.S. in more than 50 years, “to strengthen our schools, to enlarge opportunities and to improve our nation’s education performance.”
  3. “Canada plan beats inflation” (Aug. 28) argued that because free-market forces did not apply to medical costs, “the Bush administration should study the Canadian example and face the medical lobby headlong.”

The Daily News feature section, This Day, published two of my long features, the first of which I consider to be one of my best:

  1. “”ƒ”¹…”Life is a banquet’:  Attorney relishes motherhood and public office” (Aug. 11, 1989), which began with the delayed lead:

ST. HELENS, Ore. “”…” Leaning forward from her book-cluttered, antique desk, the 6-foot-tall woman asked, “You know who Auntie Mame was?”

She explained that that she meant the unconventional character in Patrick Dennis’ 1955 novel Aunt Mame, which became a famous Broadway play.

“In there she says to Agnes Gooch: “ƒ”¹…”Agnes, life is a banquet and most people are starving to death, so you should live, live, live, which means live life to the fullest.'”

Agnes Marie Petersen of Deer Island follows the advice given to the other Agnes. The 53-year-old woman went to law school when few women did, has held numerous public offices while she and her husband raised four children.

  1. “Old logging locomotive sashays to new home” with the sidebar “Portland partners resurrect, remodel Cathlamet Hotel” (Aug. 14), both datelined CATHLAMET.

The Daily News published four of my personal columns identified as Visitor’s Viewpoint carrying my byline and photo:

  1. “United State’s freedom of the press unique throughout the world” (July 31, 1989). In this essay, I argue that the First Amendment alone might not be sufficient to preserve American democracy unless remedial action is taken to combat illiteracy, ignorance (avijjƒÆ’-¾) and the low voter turnout at major elections.
  2. “Visitor frets over local crime stats that top numbers back home” (Aug. 21). I adore doing analysis of crime comparing cities and states. Although Moorhead and Longview had roughly the same population size, the crime rate for Longview was far higher.
  3. “Despite hazards, camping lures intrepid family” (Aug, 21). In this essay, I unleash the joys of camping.
  4. “Indian presence adds to the violence in Sri Lanka” (Aug. 26). This column argued that inasmuch as Sri Lanka is a sovereign country, “Indian troops must leave Sri Lanka with grace because island’s elected government wants them out.”

Finally, the Daily News also published five of my hard news stories of varying depth and length:

  1. “Cowlitz [River] dredging launched” (Aug. 1, 1989) datelined CASTLE ROCK. A hard news story on dredging a seven-mile stretch of the river from Horseshoe Bend to Beacon Hill.
  2. “Wahkiakum cannery to be film star” (Aug. 14) datelined CATHLAMET. A story about a local fish cannery becoming one of the locations for Come See the Paradise, a new movie.
  3. “Council agenda coordinates development” (Aug. 14) datelined SKAMOKAWA. A hard news story based on an interview with Sharon Hart, director of the Lower Columbia Economic Development Council.
  4. “Senator swings through town to talk timber, visit constituents” (Aug. 14). A spot story based on an interview with Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., at a Longview stopover.
  5. “St. John’s high costs turn off Kaiser Permanente official” (Aug. 18). A front-page spot story on the resignation of administrator Ray Dockery, whom I interviewed.

On my first day in the newsroom (July 20), systems manager Vince Evans spent an hour with me to explain the newspaper’s computer system. Bob Gaston spent more time with me to solve the glitches. I also attended a front-page editorial meeting, where I met Ted Natt, the editor and publisher. I was also invited to attend an editors’ meeting in the afternoon. 

The next morning, I was in the office at 6.30 to join police and courts reporter Bud May on his four-hour morning round. Our first stop was the Hall o f Justice, where the Cowlitz County Sheriff’s department and the Longview Police Department are located. May had easy access to all the arrest records, which he entered into his portable computer. At Kelso, we had breakfast with police Chief Tony Stoutt. Back in Longview, I interviewed police Chief Ed Bourdage to ascertain his thoughts on the city’s crime rate.

Almost every day I was kept busy attending one meeting or another that helped me to absorb the news environment. Someone or another would invite me out for lunch every work day. Perhaps Gaston was behind these “spontaneous” invitations by fellow journalists.

On July 26, Cathy Zimmerman of the features desk assigned me to do a profile of St. Helens attorney Agnes Petersen, who turned out to be the textbook interviewee that all reporters dream about. To give muscle to her profile, I also interviewed her law partner Robert Van Natta and Editor Greg Cohen of The Chronicle.

My first story to appear in The Daily News was headlined “New principal hired” (July 27). On Aug. 7, I suggested to Gaston that the tardy handling of the interns’ copy was having a negative impact because interns would not have much to do during the remaining couple of weeks unless remedial action was implemented. Perhaps this explains why a bunch of my stories appeared on the same day””‚Aug. 14.

Copy Editor Dell Burner spent two mornings (Aug. 9, 10) editing copy with me. His job is like that of a journalism instructor working on student copy.

News Editor Al Brettman showed me Aug. 15 morning how he edited wire service copy, inserted headlines, and did the page layout/design. After dinner, I attended the Kelso City Council meeting on the invitation of reporter Julie McDonald.

My major task Aug. 16 was to lay out the General News page of Section F for the next day’s edition of The Daily News. I edited copy, wrote headlines, cropped photos and laid out the front page of Section F. Al helped me with headline specifications. However, my copy fit of two stories was way out. I had to trim them at the galley stage.

Jim Bross coached me on editorial writing during the last week of my internship. On Aug. 25, my last day, The Daily News published my write-up on education as its lead editorial. I thanked editor-publisher Ted Natt, managing editor Bob Gaston and all my fellow journalists for training me while also paying me.

[Before my internship came to an end, my sister took off on her return trip to Sri Lanka on Aug. 14, and my mother left on her return trip to Australia on Aug. 21, leaving my immediate family to drive back to Minnesota in my Toyota Camry wagon. We left Longview on Aug. 26 and reached our home in Moorhead, Minn., on Sept. 4. We explored Western Canada on our way back with stopovers in Victoria, Vancouver, Sicamous, Calgary, Regina and Portage la Prairie.]

 Next: A second internship in motherland: Last fling at Lake House

[The writer is a professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead. He dedicates this installment to the memory of the late V. Thanabalasingham of Ananda College, and the late Austin T. Cooray of Carey College, for expanding his horizons through improving his mastery of English.]



One Response to “The journey of a journalist (Part 9A) – A SECOND INTERNSHIP IN ‘STEP LAND’”

  1. Priyantha Abeywickrama Says:

    Dear Shelton, your story as a global trotting migrant who strongly attach yourself to the country that you grown up, may be a very good source for us to include in our effort to study the inner functioning of migrants and the associated contributory factors as a matter of study focus. Is there any possibility of getting your articles bundled together in pdf format? Assuming you have a good grasp of Sinhala language, is it possible to add more substance to your thoughts in Sinhala to suit the requirements of the native Sinhala audience along the lines of anticipated queries on your thoughts that are different to English speaking audience? Bilingual entries are welcome as we appreciate retention of natural meaning that may be lost in the translation.

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