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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2005-09-06

Intern Diaries: Grand Forks Herald
'When I decided to go to Grand Forks, I promised myself I would use my Spanish on the job.'

By Elie Gardner, Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Water covers fields and country roads after heavy rains five miles southwest of Pembina, N.D. Tuesday, July 5, 2005.
I spent my summer at the Grand Forks Herald in Grand Forks, North Dakota- the land of pop (not soda!), mosquitoes, friendly people and lots and lots of enterprise photos. My first day in the state, the Fargo Police Department welcomed me by awarding me with a $150 speeding ticket. Little did I know, I was only following in the footsteps of my predecessor, Justin Kase Conder, who apparently also received a few speeding tickets in The Great North.

I was born in a one-traffic-light town in North Dakota, but my family and I moved to Columbia, Missouri in 1999. My two closest friends live in Fargo, and after accepting the internship, I looked forward to being an hour away from them. I was also eager to have my first 40-hour-a-week job.

Even though my hometown is two hours from Grand Forks, during my first week at the paper, I ran into many people who commented that they knew my father, mother or my best friend's mom. Others told me they had been to my house "years ago." I knew I was back in North Dakota, and something felt "good" about that.

I also was offered an internship at a Spanish daily in San Antonio. But after much consideration, I decided to go to Grand Forks. My logic told me my time in San Antonio would be spent in my car or convincing people to let me take their photo. In North Dakota, I knew traffic and access would not be problems. It was a tough decision because I knew I would have more opportunities to speak Spanish in San Antonio, so when I decided to go to Grand Forks, I promised myself I would use my Spanish on the job.

Soon after arriving in Grand Forks, I started asking about the local Latino population because I wanted to connect with other Spanish speakers for a possible story. My mother told me about a migrant summer school program in the area, so I asked my editor John about it. A few weeks later, he sent me to the school in Manvel, N.D., on assignment. I enjoyed the program so much that I returned on my days off to make more pictures for a story, even though it would never make the paper.

My initial visit amazed me. In the past, I have run into walls trying to photograph children in elementary schools. Getting first and last names from migrant and immigrant children isn't always the easiest task either. Fortunately, the only thing I ran into was the friendly principal who told me how happy he was that I was there.

[As a side note, Columbia, Mo., where I go to school, is probably one of the most media saturated towns of its size. Because of the abundance of professional and student journalists, the town is hesitant to talk to anyone with a camera or notebook. North Dakota was a nice change when compared to this close-lipped rhythm I face in Missouri.]

As I spent time at the school, I realized why I learned Spanish. When I sat in the cafeteria and listened as the students carried on in their Spanish, I would have missed a lot had I not spoke their language. I still remember the look on Martin's face when he asked me if I spoke Spanish, and I replied to him in Spanish. Suddenly, the kids had more respect for me. They shared more with me, and one of them even thought I would make a good girlfriend for her older brother.

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Rudy Lopez, 10, holds flashcards during a game of "Around the World" at the Manvel Public School in Manvel, N.D., Friday, July 1, 2005. Lopez is one of many migrant students who attends summer classes.
During my third visit, I loved how the children waved at me or asked how I was doing. I spent most of my time with a fourth-grade class, and during recess if a child would look at me and smile, the fourth-graders would explain to them that I was not there to take "portraits" and to "quit looking at the camera." These kids taught me a lot about what it is like to be a migrant, and I hope I taught them a lot about what it is like to be a journalist.

Although finding the migrant school was a highlight of my summer, other experiences stick in my mind. I shot my first set of aerials from a three-seater airplane. The pilot decided it would be fun to let me take-off. When I say that, I don't mean he just let me steer. He made me use the left and right foot pedals to steer the plane down the runway while my left hand was on the throttle and my right hand was on the wheel. He sat there doing NOTHING.

I thought the runway would end before I could get the plane in the air, so I started shouting this to the pilot though my headset. He politely told me we were already in the air. Relief (and embarrassment) followed.

A reporter sat in the rear seat and held the window open for me, as I leaned my head and 80-200mm lens out the window and into the wind. Much of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota were flooded and the fields were wet. I wasn't sure what we would find once we were up in the air, so I tried my best to look for damage and water while keeping aesthetics in mind.

I was also doing my best to keep down my lunch and my 30 oz. of tea from that morning (I get motion sickness). Like always, if I just focused on taking the pictures, I didn't think about my physical/emotional state, and after three hours in the air, I made it back to the tarmac without using my puke bag.

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Photo by Elie Gardner / Grand Forks Herald

Jory Davidson, 10, (left) plays chess with Eric Belliveau, 11, at Lil' Firecrackers Childcare, which Davidson's mother runs, in Grand Forks, N.D., Tuesday, July 26, 2005.
And of course, my summer would not have been half as fun without all the trips to the small towns around the area for a niche publication called Neighbors. The assignments were not always the most visual, but the people we met were rich in spirit. The reporter and I always loved sitting down in the small-town cafes and eating their burgers, BLTs or hot beef sandwiches. By the end of the summer I had favorite cafes all over North Dakota and Minnesota.

I should mention here that my summer was not all fun and fluffy. When deciding to go to North Dakota, I thought I might be missing hard news opportunities. By the end of the summer I covered a triple-fatality car accident, a suicide, a murder and a fatal fire.

This summer I learned to enterprise, to make a picture out of nothing- out of the girl drawing with sidewalk chalk, the boy selling his bunnies on the corner or the kids playing chess at a daycare. I learned a little bit about what it feels like to be a migrant child, living in Texas or Mexico for six months and in North Dakota for the remainder of the year.

I learned how to fly an airplane. I learned where the good cafes are, but I believe my greatest lesson was the affirmation of my belief in journalism. I was just one of many hard working people in a newsroom.

We all had different ways of telling the story, but we all believed it had to be told. Some days we were tired and grumbled about putting in overtime. Other days, we stayed at work because we wanted to be there, because there is this force within all journalists that keep us doing what we do. We are not journalists 40 hours a week. We are always journalists.

Although unique in their styles, I admire the employees of the Grand Forks Herald, especially the three Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers I worked with daily, editor John Stennes, staff photographers Jackie Lorentz and Eric Hylden. They have all been there at least 19 1/2 years. This speaks volumes about a newspaper- one in which I was privileged to be a part of for three month and one that will influence the remainder of my life and many lives besides my own.


(Elie Gardner is a student at the University of Missouri. So see some of her work, go to her SportsShooter.com member gallery at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/members.html?id=2461.)

Related Links:
Gardner's member gallery

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