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Crosstalk: Tackling a steep learning curve



In November 2017, I reached a milestone of sorts in that my earliest work at The Dalles Chronicle is surfacing once again as source materiel for Looking Back, a history feature that draws from issues of the Chronicle 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100 years ago.

It was a little startling to realize I've been working here that long, and while the scribe was transcribing one of the features entries for January 2018, I noticed a photograph on the front page that reminded me how times have changed since 1998.

It was a simple photograph of old cherry trees in the snow, a series of shapes. I was inspired by an old photograph by Oregon photographer Chet Atkinson of the same subject, also taken in The Dalles, of the same subject.

No location was given for Atkinson's photograph, but I was at the Cherry Heights road viewpoint overlooking town, which was also the subject of an Atkinson photograph from that time period.

I suspect we were photographing the same orchard: the trees were large and sprawling down a fairly steep slope, creating a photographic opportunity that was unusual to find.

Atkinson's black-and-white photograph was published in his autobiography. My black-and-white photograph was published on page one of the Chronicle.

Today, the old trees in that particular orchard are gone, replanted with young replacement trees. And black-and-white, page one photographs are also a thing of the past: We shifted to all color a couple of years later.

The scene from the viewpoint has changed as well, the loss of the aluminum plant to the west and the towering grain elevators downtown on First Street are just two of the changes that come to mind.

There were changes going on at the newspaper as well.

I was busy shifting our photographic system from one based on physical prints and pages to a digital system in which films were scanned and pages designed electronically, and the little Chronicle office east of the Civic Auditorium was soon to be moved to our current, significantly larger current office on Third Street.

Within a couple of years, photographic film no longer played a role at the Chronicle, front pages were always in color, and the newspaper was narrower by a couple of inches.

Yet the role of the paper as a newspaper of record has never changed, and that can be seen as you page back through the many issues in our archives.

Twenty, forty, even 100 years ago, the Chronicle went to press and was circulated to our readers, documenting our “now,” and giving future readers a chance to see and read what happened “then.”

That printed record will be no less important in the upcoming decade: Historians are even now puzzling over how to preserve some of the “digital only” information generated in the last decade and rapidly becoming lost to new protocols, devices and operating systems.

A historic “black hole” is developing, despite its being the “information age,” and the Chronicle will be one of the archives available as source material to a fascinating and tumultuous time.

The Chronicle continues to survive economic turmoil and the “disruption” of new technology because readers need to know and understand what is happening today, and how today's events will impact their tomorrow.

They need to get behind the scenes, up in the front row, and into the “weeds” of the news: and newspaper journalists are taking them there today just as they did in the past.

They leave behind them a paper record that stands as a source of information for those who come after as well: Those who want to understand who did what, as well as when, where, why and how.

— Mark Gibson

Shortly after arriving at the Hood River News almost 18 years ago, I was tossed a camera I didn’t know how to work and told to run out and get a photo of “a house full of s---!”

And it was. A sewage backflow had saturated the floor of a family’s home with about six inches of sludge.

“The kids were standing on the bed screaming and we were trying to wade to them through all that,” said the horrified young mother.

What made the situation worse was that, somehow, the sewage got into the ventilation system and spewed out to cover furniture. It was a literal s--- storm.

The city first refused to pay for the damage, citing a law that protected them from all but $50,000 of damages. However, when public pressure mounted after the story aired, the city ended up buying the property at market value.

So began my adventure with Eagle Newspapers, which owns both HRN and The Dalles Chronicle, began with a flush, so to speak.

This profession provides you with a unique opportunity to get to know the person behind the mask of an elected official, and to learn about things going on behind the scenes, something not afforded the general public.

Every day is spent in research at a news desk and that gives journalists an opportunity to know a little about a lot of things. We laugh in the office about having to be an expert on a new subject every day, something that can be mentally exhausting, but is usually interesting – except when it involves a subject heavily in the scientific realm, and then a coma hovers at the edge of my consciousness.

This job changes your life forever because, somewhere along the way, you realize the enormous responsibility of putting out information read by thousands. The extreme importance of fact checking stories and watching for bias to write as objectively as possible.

This is a profession where an error is impossible to hide.

What we do makes a difference — advertising fundraisers can bring donations rolling in, and pointing out the flawed process of a government body can bring change.

The single biggest role of a newspaper is to serve as a watchdog for the people. I take that charge given to us by the founding fathers very seriously.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost,” said Thomas Jefferson.

Thick skin is needed to fulfill that role because government officials are usually pretty upset when you point out what they are doing wrong. They have two ways of dealing with editorials that chastise them for not being open and transparent, or following ethics laws that hold them accountable to the people: They attack the messenger or they actually own up to the misdeed, apologize and then deal with the fallout (this is definitely not the popular option).

There are moments in journalism that take your breath away and those that leave you feeling humbled and honored.

To tell the stories of heroes, or to share the delightful experiences of intrepid explorers, is to realize the great possibilities of life.

I have cried with veterans who are willingly reliving the horrors of war to educate civilians.

Sometimes I have laughed gleefully, such as getting to turn on the holiday stars with the Fun Group, and felt the joy of childhood again.

There are been times I was fascinatingly horrified, such as observing the branding and castration of cattle. The year-long immersion into the cowboy lifestyle seared my soul with timeless American traditions.

I thank all who have welcomed me into their lives to tell their stories. You have taught me many valuable life lessons.

— RaeLynn Ricarte



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