Posted on September 14th, 2009

By Shelton A. GunaratneƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚©2009

The World Press Institute made arrangements for me to work with the Eugene Register-Guard in Oregon on a 10-week internship (Feb, 6 – April 14, 1967).ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  When the news of my internship reached Fred W. Welty, who served as the information chief at the USIS in Colombo in the mid ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”60s, he wrote me expressing his surprise that I had been assigned to work in the very paper that he worked for 22 years ago. Welty wrote:

It is almost melodramatic ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…”something for RipleyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Believe it or NotƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚to think that 22 years later the wheel has turned full circle, and thatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚after sitting on a selection board in Colombo, CeylonƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚the person that I voted should go to America is with … the Eugene Register-Guard.

I met with Welty during both my visits to the nationƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s capital. At his Bethesda, Md., home, he showered his hospitality.

This internship enabled me to establish my credentials as a journalist who made an impact on the local community. My photo appeared in the newspaper with several of my features. Examples:

  • An article occupying the front page of the womenƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s section (March 5) compared the marriage customs of Ceylon with those observed in the United States.
  • An opinion column titled ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Ceylon? Oh, yes, thatƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s in AfricaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (March 2) documented the average AmericanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s ignorance of geography and placed the blame on the U.S. press.
  • An opinion column titled ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Americans need attitude changeƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (March 3) received high praise from reader Leavitt O. Wright (March 15), who described the piece as ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-enlightening and challenging.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚
  • My news report of a speech by civil rights advocate Dick Gregory (March 3) appeared side by side with that of the Register-GuardƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s reporter to enable the reader to see the angles played up by each reporter.
  • Four articles on Ceylon (ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-A nation rich in history: pearl of the Indian Ocean little known to AmericansƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚; ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Democracy in Ceylon solid and effectiveƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚; ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-To Ceylonese journalist American women seem masculineƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚; and ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Education in Ceylon free to everyoneƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ appeared on four consecutive days from March 26 -29).

The third article on women elicited the following response from Mrs. C. Harkins of Eugene:

Unfortunately, flowing dresses do not lend themselves gracefully to many facets of our existence … Nonetheless, short hair, jeans, good old heavy German bones and all, IƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢m a woman and love it. I have bangles and beads, ribbons, bows, ruffles, silky material, fur, high-heeled red shoes, silk-covered legs. I cook, sew, knit, clean the house, bear the children, help raise the children, adore my grandchildren who in turn love me. I am a virtuous wife, a fair citizen. CanƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t you just take us for what we are, as terrible as that may seem to your evidently home-sick heartƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚just American women?

I sensed that I had made an impact on the people of Eugene during my short internship at the Register-Guard.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Robert Welty, older brother of Fred, invited me to visit his family in The Dalles, along the Columbia River. Service clubs and schools called on me to participate on discussions, particularly on Vietnam.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  A graduate student from India, Charvikalayil Chacko, helped me with finding accommodation and making social contacts.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ The internship certainly helped me to establish connections with John Hulteng, dean of the School of Journalism at the University of Oregon, who agreed to give me serious consideration should I decide to apply to do graduate studies in journalism leading to a master of arts. As I was reaching the end of my WPI fellowship, HultengƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s encouraging words provided me the necessary backing to select between (a) returning to Lake House and (b) pursuing graduate studies in Oregon.

Assignment USA

The WPI fellowship required me to complete an independent journalistic project of my own. My choice was to document the transition of North Pole Eskimos (as I did at the group presentations at Wingspread in Racine, Wis., on May 24) since this would also fit in with my plan to explore the Alaskan Panhandle by ferry from Prince Rupert to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. I flew from Juneau to Fairbanks, from where a Wien Air Alaska flight took me to the Eskimo settlement of Barrow.

I spent more than a week in the Eskimo communities of Barrow and Wainwright (April 25 – May 2) interviewing numerous sources. My Eskimo guide Thomas K. Ahveskara introduced me to the sources I sought to interview. The Bureau of Indian Affairs made the arrangements for me to stay at the local schools in the two communities and allowed me to use a BIA-hired bush-plane for my transportation between them. My Wainwright visit turned exciting when Rossman Pistook, the marshal, took me in his dog sled to the aboriginal teaching post and the ice pond. While I sat on a caribou skin on the sled, Rossman kept standing while driving his team of nine dogs led by ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Lumber.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚

In each Alaska city I visited, I became a celebrity journalist:

  • In Juneau, I appeared on a KINY TV program
  • In Fairbanks, the daily News Miner not only carried a news story on me but also paid me $20 for a story I wrote on my Barrow experience. The Tundra Times interviewed me for a feature.
  • In Anchorage, the Daily Times published a front-page 3-column story titled ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Ceylonese visitor looks at transition of Eskimo.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ It also published a feature I wrote about my exciting 356-mile train trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage traveling in the trainƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s engine as well as in the caboose.

Kent Brandley, who interviewed me for the Anchorage Daily Times story (May 8, 1967), reported:

Shelton Gunaratne … feels the white man must do more on humanitarian grounds, to assist the Alaskan Eskimo through a difficult period of transition….

He was surprised that the Eskimo language is not taught in Eskimo schools … ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-I think it [the Inupiat dialect] should be taught as a separate subject in all of these Eskimo schoolsƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ … Gunaratne noted that the Eskimo is prolific. ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-They have the highest rate of natural growth in the nation,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ he said … He said this is about to cause a classroom shortage in Barrow …ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚I discovered the dollar is 50 percent lower in value on the Arctic Slope,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ he said.

Resigning from Lake House

Both literally and metaphorically, the WPI year turned out to be the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-best of timesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ for me. It was a dream come true that perhaps evoked a degree of tanhƒÆ’-¾ƒ”š‚ (desire) and sankhara (karmic action) among my journalistic colleagues in Ceylon facing the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-worst of times,ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ including the eventual state takeover of Lake House.

By mid-June, the Ceylon Daily News had ceased publishing my ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Glimpses of the U.S.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ series. ReaderƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s Digest Foundation, the principal sponsor of WPI, saw the legitimacy of my request for a graduate studies grant and agreed to create a $1,000 tuition credit account for .me at the University of Oregon. I was ready to take the plunge.

On June 21, I wrote a letter to the chief administrative officer at Lake House requesting no-pay leave to pursue graduate studies in journalism. However, my bosses at Lake House failed to see any merit in my post-fellowship plan beyond giving me a monthƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s no-pay leave.

On July 22, the final day of our vacation in Mexico, I sent my letter of resignation (written in Spanish) to Lake House. I intended it to be a gentle way of expressing my dukkha (sorrow).

Had Lake Houses decision-makers looked at my dilemma from my perspectiveƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Why should ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-Weligama PoddaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ return to face the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-worstƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ of timesƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  without the assurance of an editorial promotion]ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  in the context of his year of brutal training and the option he had?ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚my decision couldƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  have gone the other way.

On Aug. 4, I received a letter (signed by [?] Redlich for chief administrative officer and dated July 31) accepting my resignation with effect from Sept. 6. It was in English.

I inferred the Daily News editorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s hostile attitude toward me from the following message (dated Aug. 9) from his features assistant Philip Coorey:

The Editor has ruled that we cannot deviate from the customary practice of using unsolicited articles from outsiders only if they are of exceptionally good quality.

The Daily News had made me an ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-outsiderƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ almost a month before Sept. 6.

  • Corea, the editor of Daily News at the time of my resignation, briefly headed Sri LankaƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s diplomatic missions in Ottawa and Washington, D.C., after a stint as editor of Observer He writes the Washington commentary for the Asian Tribune. I ate lunch with Corea (in the distinguished company of Lakshmana Rao of Amic and N. T. R. Singam of the Straits Times. at the Peacock Room of Ming Court Hotel in Singapore on Aug. 12, 1971,ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  just two days before myƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  return to Ceylon.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  Corea said he quit Lake House in January to join the Straits Times.
  • ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Mervyn de Silva succeeded Corea as CDN editor, but he was forced out of Lake House five years later in a tussle with Lake House Chairman A. K. Premadasa. Mervyn died in 1999.
  • During another visit to Amic in Singapore, I joined Philip Coorey and Anura Goonasekera of Amic for lunch, Coorey was then with the Straits Times of Singapore, having left his position as editor of the Observer after the Lake House ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-take-over.ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ Coorey died in 2001.
  • Harold Peiris, under whom I was trained, remained a close friend of mine until his death in 2007.

Looking back, I am glad that I resigned and intuitively avoided getting entangled in the post-1970 political minefield that Lake House would become.

ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ Next: Part 4ABƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬‚Piling high and deep in journalism: Doing the MA and PhD

[The writer is professor of mass communications emeritus, Minnesota State University Moorhead.]

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