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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2008-11-02

Intern Diaries: Skagit Valley Herald
'In the end, my internship was an amazing learning experience and a major time for growth as a photographer…'

By Luke Harris, Skagit Valley Herald

Photo by Luke Harris / Skagit Valley Herald

Photo by Luke Harris / Skagit Valley Herald
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but there was always wild art to be shot at the Skagit Valley Herald or "The SVH" as its called in Mount Vernon, Washington where I interned this summer.

This said, there were so many good times I'll never be able to cover all the quirky and hilarious people and experiences I had at the SVH in this article.

In my 12 weeks there I think I covered as much of the journalistic spectrum as is possible in so little time. I covered everything from a horseshoe club and high school sports previews to the "tragic" deaths of a mannequin family, to an all-too-real tragedy that took six lives in a shooting spree.

The crossroads currently facing newspaper journalism also defined my time there. The day I left, the newsroom took me out to a farewell lunch, which doubled as a much more important and emotional farewell party for Kim Robinson, a photo tech and all around great person. Kim had decided to take the buyout option during a rash of layoffs that took place a week after my internship ended.

On the other hand, the SVH is planning on opening a brand new facility within the year and will soon take over printing responsibilities for the neighboring daily, The Bellingham Herald. But even though things were looking up in that respect most of the people I met there didn't hold out much hope for the future of the newspaper

One time staff photographer Frank Varga told me: "Don't waste your life being a photographer, Luke… I think you should be an actor, you've got the personality."

It was pretty awesome that he thought I could be the next Will Ferrell or something, but it obviously was a little scary too. He was just kidding, of course, but the real outlook among SVHers wasn't much better.

The worry over the future also threw me into the position of multi-media "teacher," as the paper pushed to make itself video savvy. I was pretty stressed about taking on that role at first. I mean, who was I to be criticizing the work of photojournalists and print journalists with over 20 years of experience. But since it was the SVH and there is not a nicer more respectful group of people around, eventually it became fun and even pushed me to learn a lot more than I had before about software like iMovie, GarageBand, etc.

The small things are what I will remember the most, though. Like rolling around Mount Vernon with fellow intern Keith Chaplin and his relentless eye for "hot chicks."

Watching Frank do the river dance in the middle of the hall to bagpipe music he had recorded at the Scottish Highland Games.

Or when we ordered A&W floats at the drive-thru with our best "Godfather" voice impersonations.

Photo by Luke Harris / Skagit Valley Herald

Photo by Luke Harris / Skagit Valley Herald
And I'll certainly remember an interesting piece of advice I got from a sports reporter:
"You taking any journalism classes this year?" he asks.

"Yeah I've got mass media and ethics," I say, but before I can go on…

"Pssh, you'll never need those!"

And there was the time Phil, a copy-editor, and I violated Keith's prized photo of himself sacking a quarterback in high school by photo shopping Michael Jackson's head over his. I'm still waiting for retaliation for that one.

As far as assignments, there were definitely some good ones. Like the Hare Krishna ceremony I attended in the most unlikely of places, Sedro-Woolley, Washington (think Appalachia in the Northwest). Even though I had three batteries in my bag, I still managed to somehow burn them all out within the first five minutes. Magically, I found that by taking the battery out and putting it back into the Nikon D1H it could give me an infinite amount of single frame shots. I probably repeated this process about 100 times, taking one shot at a time, as I dodged whirling, chanting, profusely sweating Hare Krishna devotees. Call it luck or camera science, but I like to think it was the little gold Hare Krishna deity that I prayed to shortly after I realized I was screwed.

Also, one day near the middle of my internship I was told I would be covering a quadruple murder, and I was to go the home of the victims' family to take photos and video of how they were dealing with the loss.

The only thing was…the victims were actually mannequins that had become small-town celebrities in the tiny community of Clear Lake. The family had been keeping them up in their front yard for over 10 years and would dress them up in festive attire during holidays. Each mannequin represented a member of the real family. Sadly, the mannequins had been slain and despicably mutilated by vandals in an act of pure evil. Naturally, the family was extremely upset and I ended up getting an eerie photo the 12 year-old-son observing his own beheaded corpse (really his namesake mannequin).

Finally, a real tragedy hit Skagit County on September 2nd when a mentally ill man murdered six people, including a sheriff's deputy. I was far away at a football preview assignment when the call came in. I didn't have a scanner and had no idea what was going on until a couple hours later when I got back and the newsroom was empty except for one reporter huddled next to the scanner. I joined him once I heard what was going on and about 10 minutes later half the news staff blew back into the office.

Photo editor and shooter Scott Terrell had amazingly gotten a photo of the murderer in the middle of a high-speed chase and another shot of him turning himself in at the sheriff's office in downtown Mount Vernon! It took days to figure out all the details and we only found out later that night the extent of the injuries and death toll.

In the end, my internship was an amazing learning experience and a major time for growth as a photographer because of all the freedom, respect, advice and experience that Scott, Frank, Matt and Kim provided me with. Frank and Matt Wallis' opposite shooting styles were great for me to learn and shape my own style from. I had such a great time I almost want to risk staying in journalism school! Just kidding. But seriously, I think my new friends at the SVH would be worried if I didn't come up with some sort of back-up plan. That's why I'm moving to Hollywood!

Related Links:
Luke's member page

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