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|| News Item: Posted 2004-07-28

The Intern Diaries: Justin Kase Conder
By Justin Kase Conder, Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

A rainbow arises behind the Stjordalen Lutheran Church in rural Traill County Sunday, after storms pounded the area, and several tornados touched down.
(Editors Note: Since it's summer Sports Shooter asked several college students serving internships to write about their experiences during their first few weeks "in the real world." This is the first of two parts.)

Twenty-three McDonalds double cheeseburgers, 1,078 mosquito bites, two speeding tickets, one near death experience, and 762 miles of gravel road travel and my summer internship at the Grand Forks Herald, in Grand Forks, North Dakota is just more than half way finished.

I've been very fortunate to have several tremendous summer internships during the past few years, two of which were at large metropolitan newspapers. One would think it would be wise to end the streak there and walk away at a small peak in my career and begin the journey up the next ominous mountain ahead. During my travels across this great U.S. of A. though, I've never been able to quench my desire to experience rural small town America. To work at a place where I knew the neighbors my images influenced and people of the community those images made a connection with. This is why I decided to make my last port of call one in rural North Dakota.

In many ways my time in North Dakota's third largest city has been very similar to that of other places I've lived and experienced in three-month stints. In nearly as many ways it's been different. Nothing allowed me to realize this more than my first assignment when my boss, John Stennes, asked me to show our readers, North Dakota from a Californian's point of view.

For two weeks, after I got off work, in between assignment as well during them, I looked for people, events, and places that were unlike my past experiences. I fully engulfed myself in my task and spent much time traveling down roads that lead to unknown destinations while meeting and talking to people who truly are the basis of those called the "the salt of the earth."

There is something rudimentary about driving down a rural highway and having a farmer wave as he heads the other direction in his John Deere while taking up three fourths of the two-lane road; or meeting an 87-year-old man whose Norwegian accent has never left him because he's lived on an isolated farm in the very home he was born in after his Norwegian grandparents homesteaded the land some 125 years before. Listening to two mothers chat about life while each of their two children sit in front and behind them as they steer down a gravel road on four-wheelers towards home, is something that is inspiring and memorable for a city boy who's grown up in a place whose population nearly matches that of the whole state of North Dakota.

My first assignment was as unique as one could hope for, and while it provided readers an opportunity to refresh their ideas on what a unique special place they live... it brought the spot light back on me before I ever had a chance to recognize it was happening.

Working as part of a newsroom staff that just barely outnumbers the photo staff that I last worked with has its benefits. Your opinion carries more weight, and your brush has a broader stroke on the canvas of the newspaper than it would have at a larger daily.

In the same token, being the new kid in town, the potential to be noticed by every employee at the paper as well as the community you serve, I've discovered, is beyond your imagination. This first became apparent on the morning of my birthday. You see, the same day that I put an ad in the paper looking to buy a new cell phone, the Herald put an ad in the paper introducing each of the new summer interns. This ad included a mug shot of myself as well as one other male intern and two other female interns.

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

After colliding with a vehicle, Mitchell Huff, who was hauling a load of gravel for Gabriel Construction of Northwood, rests his head in his hands in the Simplot parking lot where his eighteen wheeler came to its final stop.
Around 8 AM on the Saturday morning of my birthday, I was awoken by a phone call of a woman who was selling her cell phone. After chatting with the woman briefly and explaining I was new to town but would only be here for three months, she quickly made the connection that I was one of the new Herald interns. This was followed by a little more conversation that eventually led to the question... "So are you the cute one?" Thinking that the odds were in my favor I confidently replied, "Well which one would that be?" only to hear the reply of my colleague's name, "Brenden Timpe." Needless to say, it was rather easy deciding that I wasn't interested in purchasing her cell phone and my 8 AM awakening was all for not.

After that experience, my fleeting hope for recognition would eventually find its way back to me. You see, being confident and aggressive as well as coming from a state that has a certain character expectation puts you on the forefront to becoming noticed swiftly. One person who took particular care to do so was our Saturday columnist, Rona K. Johnson. Early in the week, Rona and I spent a considerable amount of time on the road traveling to several small towns and doing stories together.

This gave us the opportunity to pick one another's brain, and share a few laughs about our contrasting views of her native state of North Dakota. Little did I know that my comments and ideas were only fodder for her next column. The Saturday after our last assignment together I arrived at the paper eager to see how my images were played but when I opened it the first thing I ran my eyes across was a headline that read "Traveling with the California Kid." Rona had written a column that poked fun at how much each of us had learned from one another during our short travels together. Me learning to drive the posted speed limit of 50 mph on a gravel road, (I promise it's a helluva lot scarier then it sounds), to her having to brush up on her farm knowledge because my questions on the subject never seemed to end.

Between Rona's column and my "North Dakotan, California's Point of View" photo page, it wasn't long before I realized I had become somewhat of a local celebrity. In a matter of five days twelve people had approached me to ask if I was the Herald photographer from California, including a man who noticed me in a mom and pop magazine shop more than an hour and a half west of the newspapers home of Grand Forks.

Photo by

Justin, right, and Tuskegee Airman Col. Alexander Jefferson.
I would be lying if I said that it wasn't rather flattering or exciting, but far more than that it allowed me to realize that one of my single most important decisions for choosing to work at rural American newspaper was being met. And that was my desire to work at a place where I could meet the people and see the faces of those individuals my pictures had made a connection with, the people my images influenced, the very people of my community.

With that I thought I'd leave you with a few DO's and DON'Ts I've learned from my very true personal experiences in life as an intern at a rural American newspaper.

#1. DO NOT try and pickup on the astonishingly gorgeous news anchor at the, 11 pm drunk driver into the convalescent home car accident. Unbeknownst to you she just might be your news editor's just engaged fiancé'.

#2 DO be sure that the home you're renting a room in, which could possibly be owned by the sports copy editor, has smoke alarms. You never know when he just may come home two sheets to the wind, a little hungry, and forget he's put a frozen pizza in the oven; only to have you wake up at 6 AM smelling like crust smoke as you hear him walking to his room murmuring the words, "I don't even think the dog would eat that s*it..."

#3 DO NOT assume that just because your radar detector has alerted you to three cops in two blocks in a matter of one minute and ten seconds, that when it goes off again twenty seconds later the chances of you actually approaching yet another cop with a radar detector are next to none. Doing 40 in a 20 eats away at that intern pay check faster than you can say "Was I seriously going that fast."

#4 DO brush up on your acting skills and B.S. because its guaranteed that while you're out shooting one day, some mother, who you swear you've never met in your entire life, will come up to chat about how exciting it was to have you photograph her child at some previous event two weeks earlier.

#5 And finally DO NOT think for one second that that fancy-dancy, $1200, two pay check, GPS system that you bought to get you around your "Big City" internship, will be of any use whatsoever when our trying to find Kenard Kundson's sugar beet farm at NW 36th Ave S, Gravel Road 6, Hatton, North Dakota.

(Justin Kase Conder is a recent graduate of California State University, Fresno and has previously interned at the Boston Globe, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch. To view his work, check out his member page:

Related Links:
Justin's member page
The Intern Diaries, Part 2: Justin Kase Conder

Contents copyright 2020, Do not republish without permission.
Old habits die hard, renewed my SS membership again! Renewed ::..