If, like me, you look at bylines, you may have noticed a new one in The Columbian: Nicholas Gibson.
We recently welcomed Nick as our second Dee Anne Finken endowed summer intern, a program that we are offering to a Clark College journalism student each summer in partnership with the Clark College Foundation and journalism professor Beth Slovic, who is also the adviser to the Clark College Independent student newspaper.
Nick is a sophomore at Clark and will be the editor of the Indy this fall. He’s from Grand Junction, Colo., where he volunteered with a low-power community radio station and the League of Women Voters, and served as high school student body president.
After Clark, he plans to attend Washington State University in Pullman to earn his bachelor’s degree in communications.
When we interviewed him this spring, he said he was looking for an opportunity to see “how the machine works” and learn about how to use public records to enhance his reporting.
Although an annual occupational survey by the online job firm CareerCast perpetually lists “newspaper reporter” as one of the 10 worst jobs in America, along with “nuclear decontamination technician,” people like Nick are still attracted to it. I asked him why.
He said being a community news reporter is meaningful work and a way to give back to the community. He likes the opportunity to learn new things and meet interesting people, and it sure beats having a dull workaday job.
In other words, he pretty much said the same things I said when I applied for an internship back in 1981.
As it was then, internships are the route to getting media jobs. Like cooking food or framing houses, reporting is an occupation where you learn best by jumping in and getting started. You start with an internship, get a few work samples, probably make a few mistakes, get a few references from your editors and then leverage that into your next job. And so on and so on, until you either 1) decide you like where you are at; 2) go to work for some big metro publication; or 3) decide that the long hours and low pay aren’t worth it and become a government spokesperson.
That said, this is an exceedingly weird summer to be an intern.
First of all, I haven’t actually seen all of Nick’s face. I’ve met him twice, and both times, of course, we wore masks. Like all the other reporters, he is mostly working remotely and will have to forge his bonds via Microsoft Teams, email and the phone. I am just hoping we can give him enough opportunity this summer to make it worth his while.
It was much easier last summer. I cleaned out my workstation at the metro desk so our intern, Jeni Banceu, could sit alongside a cluster of veteran reporters and editors. She covered about two dozen stories for us. We sent her to climb Beacon Rock. She wrote about a rare corpse flower and a fungus infecting endangered Western pond turtles. She met Timber Joey and 39 new American citizens. And, my favorite, she helped a 10-year-old Ridgefield girl wash her 4-H market hog at the Clark County Fair.
“I realized my rookie mistake of not asking the right questions when Champ tried to chomp through my hiking shoes,” Banceu wrote. “I should have asked, ‘How sharp are a pig’s teeth?’ ”
I am very sorry that we can’t send Nick to the fair, but this week we did send him to Portland International Airport to write about the opening of the new Concourse E extension. He wants to get experience covering law and justice, so he may go to the courthouse next week.
With these stories he’ll have a chance to learn new things and meet interesting people. So although this summer is unique, I hope the internship will offer its traditional value to a talented new journalist. Welcome, Nick.