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|| News Item: Posted 2008-11-02

Intern Diaries: Erie Times-News
'"In the classroom, you can only learn so much. It's a safe starting off point.'

By Carlos Delgado, Erie Times-News

Photo by Carlos Delgado / Erie Times-News

Photo by Carlos Delgado / Erie Times-News

Framed by an ice-covered tree branch, Anton Krein, 23, of Erie, walks down State Street near Perry Square in downtown Erie on March 5, 2008.
A year or so went by after I graduated from Cal State Fullerton, and it was crunch time to get another internship in. My first internship was at the Long Beach Press-Telegram, my hometown paper. While it was an important stepping-stone and learning experience, I knew I needed to get out of my Southern California comfort bubble to further my career. So, I sent out a big stack of applications all over the place, and I went with the first paper to want me.

The Erie Times-News in Erie, PA offered me their winter/spring internship, so I went shopping for Eskimo gear. I knew I had a hell of an experience ahead of me. I've never seen snowfall. I wear flip-flops year round. I'm Mexican-American. Yet, the six months in Erie turned out to be an eye-opening life experience and something that really got me ready for the real world.

I learned many things during my internship, but I narrowed it down to five things that I thought were important. The first thing that I learned was how to be a better, more thorough journalist. Never before was I pushed to get captions on steroids that were accurate and perfect AP style. I also learned to make sure to get the shots that narrated the story the best. When you screw up, and the night photographer has to squeeze in another assignment to get the shot you didn't get, you learn real fast.

The second thing that I learned was how to handle a heavy workload. You would think that photographers at small-town papers would have more time on their hands to dive into long-term projects. It was quite the opposite. Three to four assignments a day were the norm. One time, I got seven assignments in one day. There was one pool laptop and a wireless data card to use for breaking news, but in Erie, those data cards work like dial-up from 1995. So, for most every assignment, photographers drove back to the office to transmit. Six months of that will put your time management skills to the test.

The third thing that I learned was that there is a potential photo story in every assignment. I kind of knew this one already from school and mentors telling me this, but I never put it into practice like I did in Erie. We had a quota of one multimedia slideshow a month. Many times, these slideshow deadlines would creep up after weeks of non-stop work. Each person that I took a portrait of and each place that I did a feature on turned into a possible multimedia story idea.

The fourth and fifth things that I learned were to never come back empty handed, and that humans can indeed survive in freezing climates. I will elaborate a little on these two later.

In the classroom, you can only learn so much. It's a safe starting off point. It's like the womb. But once the doctor slaps your ass, that's when it starts to get crazy. You are in the real world, and the pressure is on. For me, school gave me the building blocks to being a good photographer. It took outside of school learning and real-world experiences, like internships and workshops like the Sports Shooter Academies, to really start learning how to be a better photographer.

During my internship in Erie, I used everything I learned in school, my first internship, workshops, mentors, assisting, and a year of freelancing to make the best pictures I could. I tried to push the envelope and bring my West Coast style to the Erie Times-News. In the process, I picked up a few new things.

Photo by Carlos Delgado / Erie Times-News

Photo by Carlos Delgado / Erie Times-News

General McLane High School basketball player Shawn Walker, 18, of McKean Township, is the 2008 Division 10 basketball player of the year. Portrait was taken in the Erie Times-News studio.
I finally dipped my feet into the water that is video. It's a whole different animal, and it was fun learning how to tell a story in a different medium. I also got a lot of Final Cut Pro practice, which I desperately needed. Frequently, I had to double shoot video and stills. I thought both suffered when I did that, but I learned how to pick and choose shots with one still camera and a video camera on a monopod. I also learned how to be really fast and efficient with the "lighting in a bag" kit for portraits. Three Nikon SB-800's, a small softbox, umbrellas, snoots made with black wrap, a couple stands, ghetto-rigged brackets, and gels made up the kit. A small-scale lighting kit made me well prepared for on-the-run portraits, but nothing prepared me for working in my first ever snowstorm.

I was the only photographer on the clock that day. I remember sitting at the desk looking at my assignments when a reporter came over and told me I needed to get out to a wreck on the interstate. Until that point, I never in my life saw snow actually fall from the sky, let alone drive in a snowstorm. It felt surreal and a little scary driving through white nothingness. I might as well have been driving with my eyes closed. I also learned quickly that the car doesn't stop when you want it to.

Somehow I made it, and I pulled over before the long line of cars. I decided that the only way I would come back with a photo from this, is if I walked a quarter mile out to the wreck. I should've bought snowshoes I thought. It was the longest, most desperate trek through four feet of snow-covered median ever.

When I got to the "wreck," the three layers of pants I was wearing were soaked up to my waist and all the involved cars were already towed away. I took a photo of the long line of cars and began the mission back the way I came. At the end, I learned that sometimes you need to get a photo no matter what, and you can't come back empty handed. A boring photo is better than no photo. I also found out what it feels like not to be able to feel your hands or your legs.

Chris Millette, the photo editor, was instrumental in giving me feedback and in making me a better photojournalist. Chris and the photo staff, Jack Hanrahan, Rob Engelhardt, Greg Wohlford, and Janet Campbell, were always there to answer questions, give me tips, and help me develop story and portrait ideas. I also did as much teaching as I did learning, sharing my knowledge of lighting, remotes, light painting, and time-lapse photography with the staff.

During my internship, I saw the perspective of the small-town paper that was trying to catch up to the big guys. I came in right after the paper decided that video and multimedia were going to be the future, and it definitely required a lot of learning by trial and error. I think that in small markets, newspapers are always going to be relevant as long as they adapt to the multimedia audience and continue to produce quality content. As long as they're the only paper in town, it would seem like there are always going to be staff photographer jobs.

Is the staff photographer job in a small market for me? I'm not so sure. Is the staff photographer job at a newspaper in general really a promising career path with stability for years to come? Well, all I know is that there are two types of people in this industry: the employee and the businessman, and the employee's days aren't looking so bright nowadays.

Regardless of the state of the industry, I took away with me experience and important tools that will serve me well in my freelance endeavor. I made some great friends and had a great time. I was able to take a few days to visit New York for the first time, and I experienced the adventure of the road trip back home. Now, I'll be ready in case a snowstorm ever hits Los Angeles.

Related Links:
Delgado's member page

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