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|| News Item: Posted 2004-09-08

The Intern Diaries, Part 2: 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

Mike Mohaupt and Justin on the road to Canada, where after they were harassed and belittled by the Canadian border guards they went on to visit some fantastic Canadian Sports Shooter members in Manitoba.
(Editors Note: Since it's the end of summer Sports Shooter asked several college students who just finished serving internships to write about their experiences after spending a summer "in the real world." This is the second of two parts.)

Now that I've learned that soda is really called "pop", that when the grocery store clerk asks if I would like a "beg," she really means bag, that a tree has "rutts" not roots, or that when I'm told the guy I just cut off "flicked" me off, it really means he just flipped me off, I thought I would share something else with you that I learned during my internship at the Grand Forks Herald, in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

The other day the thought occurred to me. On average The Boston Globe numbers about five sections and 70 pages per issue. I imagine that The New York Times and the Washington Post are probably right around the same. I bet you would be hard pressed to tell me though, out of all of those pages, the last time you read a story in any of them that centered around Mary Lou Liddy's garden, the first day of kindergarten, or how Nicolette Westlund's wedding played a part in her town's centennial celebration last weekend. Of course there are exceptions, but that's it, they're exceptions. Not to take anything away from these benchmark newspapers, but it's just not what they cover.

Three years ago during the first Sports Shooter Workshop & Luau, Robert Hanashiro taught a class on taking a chicken shit assignment and turning it into chicken salad. This summer that mantra became a phrase that I often found myself using to describe many assignments that I received. Thing is, now that I look back on it, I realize just how confused I was about the whole idea.

Over time, I had ignorantly allowed myself to develop the notion that unless I was covering the latest hard-hitting story or the biggest and best the paper had to offer, what I was covering didn't matter as much. The reality is, photographing a seven-month-old best man filling in for his father training to leave for Iraq, or spending a Sunday morning at St. Anthony's Church, which, after 121 years of service to a 63 member community, was closing its doors for the last time, is exactly what it was that I didn't know would fulfill the passion that brought me to this profession in the first place.

It reminded me of something that I had read about many times but didn't know first hand because I had never genuinely experienced it; and that is what true community journalism really is.

So what's the point of all this you say? Well when I decided to go to Grand Forks, I knew exactly what it was that I wanted; to shoot for a newspaper where my work could connect with the readers. The problem was that I didn't realize that that meant photographing what I initially thought were less than ideal assignments.

Working at a small paper, at lot of those "chicken shit, chicken salad" assignments come your way. Once I decided to stop looking at my assignments with that mindset and began seeing them as an opportunity to tell a valuable person's story, it was truly an eye opening experience.

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Justin Kase Conder / Grand Forks Herald

After a 121 years of service the doors of St. Anthony's Catholic Church are closed for the last time. Sunday marked the last service in the church whose membership has declined over the years.
When I arrived in Grand Forks, I didn't expect to learn much more than I had during my previous internships. The reality is, what I learned there may be more important than any key experience that I've had anywhere else.

The lesson is this: what you do as a photojournalist is not about you, it's about the people whose stories you're telling. It's a simple concept, one that was reiterated many times during college, but one that is a little difficult to remember on a Sunday morning when you're leaving the house at 6:30 a.m. to cover a small story two hours away.

So with that, no matter where you do your first or last internship, remember, no matter how big or small an assignment might be, try and leave that chicken shit mantra behind and remember you signed up to be a story teller, big assignment or not. Don't be like me and take half the summer to remember it.

On a side note I can't express how much better being an intern is when you have friends to share your experiences with. No matter how great the newspaper you're working for is or how wonderful the city you live in might be, without friends like Sports Shooter members Mike Mohaupt and Scott Gaddini, my internship may have only been half of what it was.

Thank you guys.

(Justin Kase Conder is a recent graduate of California State University, Fresno he spent this past summer at the Grand Forks Herald, previous to that he was an intern 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 1: Justin Kase Conder

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