Cougartown

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The instructor’s view in the classroom where I taught two courses at WSU Vancouver.

Last Thursday, I gave final exams in my two classes at Washington State University Vancouver.  On Monday, I entered final grades for a combined 45 students in those classes.

And then I exhaled.

Since January, I’ve been teaching three Communications classes — two at WSUV and one at Portland State.

Splitting my time between two campuses — two mornings a week at each one — has been the easy part. Preparing weekly lesson plans that include a mix of lectures, readings, videos, writing assignments, and guest speakers has been more challenging.  Even more so, the time and mental energy involved in grading dozens upon dozens of essays, media diaries, and other assignments.

But all that’s done. (Well, most of it anyway. I’ve still got the one class at Portland State, where my 50 students and I just passed the halfway point of the spring quarter.)

It’s time for a few fist-bumps and reflections on my first semester at WSUV.  And if you’re wondering about the headline, it’s a reference to the school mascot, the Cougars.

***

The list of thank-yous starts with Narayanan Iyer, the man who hired me to teach the just-completed classes.

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Narayanan (Nanu) Iyer, my No. 1 cheerleader and all-around support at WSU Vancouver.

Nanu is director of the Integrated Strategic Communications program within the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, named for the legendary CBS News broadcaster. The college is headquartered in Pullman, home of the flagship campus, but WSU also has branch campuses in Vancouver, Everett, Spokane and the Tri-Cities.

Nanu invited me to give a guest lecture to a Sports and the Media class last fall. He liked what he saw and hired me to teach the course this semester, a 16-week haul from January to early May. He offered a second course, Reporting Across Platforms, a hybrid course in communications and journalism. The emphasis was on writing for digital, broadcast and print — mostly news but with a nod to public relations.

The sports course went beautifully, as more than a few eyes were opened to how sports mirrors every aspect of society on issues of race and gender, technology, economics, branding and marketing, political activism and sexual assault, just to name a few.

The second course went pretty well, too, although it required more adjustments on the fly. WSUV doesn’t yet have a journalism minor, let alone a major. Students have to go to Pullman for that. So, without an actual newsroom set-up and only a handful of class members seriously interested in journalism, it required some finesse.

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WSU Vancouver, located just across the Columbia River from Portland, has an enrollment of about 4,300 students.

In both classes, I called on an array of guest speakers, talented people that I’ve been privileged to work with or get to know over the years. (More on them below.)

Nanu was indispensible. He provided encouragement and support, guiding me through WSUV’s online learning management system (how to post and receive class assignments, send email, etc.) and even filling in for me as a guest lecturer when I had to miss two classes. Most of all, he made me comfortable and valued as an adjunct instructor — something you can’t put a price on.

The other big thank-you goes to Lori, whose patience (understandably) resembled a roller-coaster depending on whether I was partially or totally consumed with prepping for classes or plowing through a stack of papers that needed grading.

During 40-plus years of marriage to a journalist, Lori has put up with too many late dinners to count; evening, weekend and holiday work; out-of-town travel; interrupted vacations; and, in recent years, the nearly 24/7 demands of news and reader engagement in the digital age.

Lori in Tucson

Lori and I met in journalism school in the days when print was king. She’s put up with my shenanigans for more than 40 years.

I’m very aware and very appreciative that I’ve been able to put so much of my time into these three classes only because Lori has enabled me to. Our free time together has taken a big hit and I’ve had to give up regular exercise except for the weekends. But the worst of it is behind us now. From here on out, I’ll be teaching either one or two classes — not three — and I’ll be able to refresh material I’ve used before rather than build a course from scratch.

***

As for other thank-yous, let me start with five guest speakers in the Sports and the Media class.

Lindsay Schnell, a Sports Illustrated staff writer who covers college sports, and Gina Mizell, an Oregonian/OregonLive beat reporter who covers Oregon State football and women’s basketball, talked about having to work twice as hard to be taken seriously as women journalists in a male-dominated industry. It wasn’t that long ago that female journalists and their employers had to go to court to force teams and leagues to provide equal access to locker rooms, where so many coach and player interviews happen, so they could do their jobs on equal footing with men.

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With undergraduate training in broadcast and print journalism, Gina Mizell is a double threat covering Oregon State athletics.

Tom Goldman told students of his career path in radio, starting at Alaska Public Radio in Anchorage and leading to his one-of-a-kind job as a Portland-based national correspondent for National Public Radio. His show-and-tell of assorted microphones and digital recorders captured students’ attention and focused their attention on an underappreciated way of delivering the news.

Chris Metz, vice president for communications with the Portland Timbers and Thorns, pulled back the curtain on the hectic life of a front-office executive. The job entails traveling with the teams; establishing and protecting their brands; helping manage coaches and players, who present a range of egos and personalities; dealing with local and national media; and responding to fans in the nation’s most popular soccer market.

And then there was Brenda Tracy. The victim of a gang rape by Oregon State football players in the late ’90s, Brenda has become a leading spokeswoman on sexual assault and rape culture, meeting with coaches and athletes across the country. Her story of redemption, beginning as a young single mom with no self-esteem, going public with her story, and subsequently becoming a registered nurse, victim advocate and national speaker, visibly moved the young men and women in my class. “Inspiring” doesn’t begin to capture the power of Brenda’s presence.

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Brenda Tracy cites her own experience as a victim in calling out rape culture.

***

I had five other guest speakers in the reporting class.

Kyle Iboshi, an investigative reporter at KGW and a Murrow alum himself, walked students through one of his stories, emphasizing that good reporting combines a nose for news, digging through public records, and holding public officials and institutions accountable. Like reporters everywhere, he’s producing video, writing for digital as well as broadcast, and engaging with readers on Twitter and Facebook.

Steve Woodward, a former colleague at The Oregonian, introduced students to “The new ‘New Journalism'”.  With an entertaining slide show full of hyperlinks, Steve moves across the spectrum of new and mostly innovative web sites that have sprung up as alternatives to the traditional mainstream media. While most students were familiar with HuffPost and BuzzfeedNews, fewer knew about Vice, Vox, Mic, Fusion, and Rare. Same goes for ProPublica, Five Thirty Eight and The Young Turks. An innovator himself, Steve has taught journalism at three colleges and universities and is newsroom director of a Portland-based startup that’s producing one-minute videos for an increasingly international viewership.

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Steve Woodward, speaking during the winter term to students at Portland State University.

Another former colleague at The O and OregonLive, Anna Griffin, introduced the class to multi-platform journalism as practiced by her employer, Oregon Public Broadcasting. Known for its sober, solid reporting on public affairs and other topics such as education, environment and diversity, OPB delivers content online, on the radio and TV. That means reporters today, regardless of age, must know how to write for different mediums, as well as shoot video, capture audio, and live tweet.

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Anna Griffin has made a smooth transition from print to multimedia journalism at Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Beth Nakamura, a staffer at The Oregonian/OregonLive, shared her perspective as a photojournalist who broke into the business in an era of still photography, darkroom chemicals and once-a-day print deadlines and has had to adapt to a completely flipped reality. Weighed down with cameras and lenses of all sizes, Beth now shoots live video, writes her own stories, downloads photo galleries in minutes, and transmits from anywhere she can get an internet connection. Beth’s images depict ordinary people experiencing both tough and tender moments, reflecting not just their hopes, interests and challenges but her own dedication: “to enable people to be heard.”

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Beth Nakamura: photographer, videographer, storyteller.

Dianne Danowski-Smith, a vice president with Publix NW,  wrapped things up with an energetic presentation that covered “the other side” of the media. As a longtime public relations pro, she explained the differences in producing in-house and external communications, in working for corporate and government employers, and in preparing for crisis situations, where some kind of response is always needed to limit damage to the client.

Each and every one of the professional journalists brought something intangible but yet very important to the class — a passion for their work that has guided their career development while also delivering compelling stories that inform, entertain and occasionally enrage readers.

I am grateful to all of them for sharing their time and expertise, indebted to Nanu for hiring me, and ever so appreciative of my wife for going through this extra-busy stretch with me.

Up next: Summer session starts June 6 with a class on Media Ethics.

 

Live from Portland!

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A Washington, D.C., crowd settles in for a performance of Pop-Up Magazine. (Photo by Jon Snyder. Courtesy: Pop Up Magazine)

As much as I enjoy books and movies, there’s something special about seeing a story come to life in real time, right in front of your eyes.

Twice in recent weeks I was able to take in a live performance. And both experiences left me wishing I had the time and budget for more.

Three weeks ago, I went with a friend to see a touring show called Pop-Up Magazine. It was exactly as advertised — a live version of traditional magazine content, presented in Portland by the authors themselves as part of a five-city winter tour.

A week earlier, Lori and I went to see a play performed in a spare, intimate space by a cast of two. The story revolves around a Latino teenager who leaves home to get away from his homophobic father and encounters another boy at a LGBT homeless shelter, sparking an unexpected relationship.

In both cases, the motivation to buy tickets came from the Media Literacy class I’ve been teaching at Portland State. I’ve encouraged my students to broaden their media consumption beyond favorite websites and social media feeds — and many of them have done just that. So it seemed only fair that I should do the same. Much to my delight, two shows popped up at the same time on my calendar.

The Pop-Up Magazine provided an opportunity to finally see a show at Revolution Hall, a renovated space that once was the auditorium at now-closed Washington High School.

Meanwhile, the two-man play gave me a chance to get reacquainted with Teatro Milagro (Miracle Theater), a company that’s been producing bilingual works for more than 30 years in Southeast Portland.

***

Teatro Milagro was part of a date night.

Lori and I had a light dinner during happy hour at a neighborhood restaurant, then motored over to the theater. We had plenty of time so we checked out a nearby place called Lantern, which bills itself as a French Vietnamese cocktail bar.  Nice!

Back at the theater, it was closing night of “Swimming While Drowning,” written by playwright Emilio Rodriguez and directed by Francisco Garcia. A small but appreciative crowd got into the story of teenagers Angelo (Michel Castillo) and Mila (Blake Stone), both estranged from their families and seeking a way forward.

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Original postcard artwork for “Swimming While Drowning”

What follows is a coming-of-age story, with touches of humor, romance, spoken word poetry and self-revelation. It always amazes me how a static set and minimal props, combined with skilled acting and the willingness to suspend disbelief, can all add up to a captivating story brought to life.

Pop-Up Magazine was, by contrast, a much larger production in a much larger space.

My friend David Quisenberry joined me on a Tuesday night as we caught the one and only Portland performance of 11 pieces billed as “A night filled with bald eagles, bad grades, blind dates” and more. The evening showcased the work of journalists, filmmakers, photographers, poets and other storytellers.

Instead of flipping through the pages of a magazine, you had these storytellers coming out solo or in pairs to read their work aloud, often with blown-up photos or videos above and behind them. The effect, for me, was one of authenticity.

Who better to deliver a tongue-in-cheek essay about one’s unattractive facial features than the owner of that “Picasso-esque” face? Who better to testify to the annoying presence of bald eagles in a remote Alaskan fishing port — where the locals refer to our majestic national symbol as “Dutch Harbor pigeons” — than the writer and photographer who spent some time up there on a reporting trip?

(Click on images to view details and captions)

In a review for PBS NewsHour, Elizabeth Frock explained Pop-Up’s genesis:

The magazine began in 2009 in San Francisco as a sort of experiment. Could a series of shows, structured like a magazine and performed live by journalists, pack performance halls across the country?

It turns out it could. It’s filled auditoriums and theaters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York, among other places. A physical magazine, California Sunday, has also grown out of the show.

Read the article here: How a pop-up magazine experiment is turning journalism into performance art

There was an added incentive for me to catch this March 7 show. One of the performers was Kelley L. Carter, a senior writer at ESPN whom I’ve known since we met on the recruiting trail in the ’90s. She was a promising journalism student at Michigan State and I was representing The Oregonian when our paths crossed at the Spirit of Diversity job fair in Detroit.

Kelley did a powerful piece entitled “1991” —  a year that she contended was both the best and worst year ever for black America.

I got a chance for a quick hug and hello after the show. Kelley, after all, had flown into Portland that day and was operating on East Coast time, so I knew her energy was flagging. Still, it was fun to see her and also offer congratulations to a couple other performers who happened by.

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After the show with Kelley L. Carter

The next morning, I gushed about this novel way of multimedia storytelling. Where my boomer generation grew up primarily with two-dimensional media (print, TV and radio), today’s college students and other consumers, for that matter, are blessed with an abundance of video and interactive material on digital platforms. And now this — live storytelling presented within a journalistic framework. Genius.

Back to PBS’ Frock for a final insight:

It’s important to note that Pop Up Magazine is gaining ground as most national magazines are struggling for readers, forced to slash newsstand prices or shut down all together. But in many ways it seemed that it wasn’t just format of the night that made the magazine something special, but the quality of the stories it put out. Almost every performance was carefully-structured, deeply reported and, in some way, surprising.

Can’t wait until this tour comes through again.

Eight years and still laying bricks

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

Vertie Hodge, 74, weeps during an Inauguration Day party near Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. in Houston on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2009 after President Barack Obama delivered his speech after taking the oath of office, becoming the first black president in the United States.

In January 2009, Barack Obama took office as 44th President of the United States.

A month later, the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona Cardinals, 27-23, in the 43rd Super Bowl and Bruce Springsteen performed during the halftime show.

Back then, our oldest son, Nathan, was a few months away from getting his bachelors degrees in business and marketing at Portland State. Our daughter, Simone, was working with low-income students at alternative high schools in Portland and applying to graduate schools on the East Coast. Our youngest son, Jordan, was a newlywed and and stationed with the U.S. Army in El Paso, Texas.

Lori and I were empty nesters, still in the Grant Park neighborhood where we raised our kids and living with our dogs, Otto and Max, and our cats, Rudy and Mabel.

And so it was that on March 1, yours truly launched the Rough and Rede blog. I’d been hired to teach a weekend seminar at a local college called “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” (How quaint that word “blogosphere” seems now.)

My first blog post, written in the wee hours of March 1, 2009, was comprised of a single paragraph:

It’s about time…I’m going to teach a weekend seminar on “Opinion and the Blogosphere.” Shouldn’t I have a blog of my own? Even one that has more bones than skin? It’s about time…It’s after 1 in the morning, that transition time between Saturday night and Sunday morning. I find I do some of my clearest thinking and clearest writing in the wee hours. Fewer distractions that way. It’s about time…How will I sustain this? I’m already on Facebook; don’t wanna do MySpace. I’m online every day, much of the day, owing to my job as editor of the Sunday Opinion section at The Oregonian. It’s about time…It’s about getting started, as the title of this post says. Choose an image: dive in, dip your toes in the water, take the first step, just do it. So I’m doing it. I have no illusions about this, by the way. Just one guy on the Left Coast laying the first brick of what I hope will be good for the soul, good for the mind. Welcome, friends and new readers.

Well, here we are, eight years later. President Obama is president no longer and our nation threatens to pull itself apart under the policies of the Cheeto-in-Chief.

The New England Patriots just won the Super Bowl (again).

Nathan is following his passions of music and food, working as a DJ and a cook at a Thai restaurant. Simone is married and working for Metro as a senior auditor. Jordan is a young father, living near Tacoma, Washington, and closing in on a biology degree at nearby St. Martin’s University.

Lori and I are in a condo, sharing our living space with our slinky feline, Mabel, and our rascally little mutt, Charlotte.

And I’m celebrating the eight-year anniversary of the original Rough and Rede blog.

***

How appropriate that this milestone would fall on the same date that I just gave my Media Literacy students their midterm exam in COM 312 at Portland State University.

Eight years ago, I was still employed at The Oregonian and just dipping my toes into the waters of higher education.

Now here I am, 14 months removed from taking a buyout at The Oregonian/OregonLive, and teaching not one college course but three.

In addition to my class at Portland State, I’m also teaching two communications courses across the river at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’ve written about the transition from newsroom to classroom before, so I won’t go into yet again, although I fully expect to reflect on my teaching experiences when the quarter (PSU) and semester (WSU) are done at each campus.

***

I’ve got some more thoughts on this personal milestone and I’ll share them before the week is through. In the meantime, thanks to one and all for following the original R&R blog or this newer version, Rough and Rede II.

Photograph: AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Mayra Beltran

 

From the newsroom to the classroom

 

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The classroom where I teach two courses at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m five weeks deep into the 2017 winter quarter at Portland State University, already halfway done with the 10-week term. Across the river, five weeks in means I’m a third of the way though the 16-week spring semester at Washington State University Vancouver.

I’m teaching one course at PSU on Monday-Wednesday and two at WSUV on Tuesday-Thursday and, yes, that’s keeping me plenty busy. (I also work four afternoons a week at a local nonprofit, but let’s not go there right now.)

As I write this on a Saturday morning, I’m struck by how fast the time goes, particularly when snow days force cancellation of classes — two at each campus — during the first two weeks. Throw in the King Day holiday and that’s another day we didn’t hold class at PSU.

But who’s complaining?

Fourteen months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive, I’ve got plenty on my plate.

***

Here I am this weekend with nearly 70 essays to grade, three chapters to read in three textbooks, two guest speakers to prepare for next week, and dates and times to confirm with a half-dozen more guests I’ve lined up in next couple of months.

Surely, this is nothing out of the ordinary for anyone who teaches full-time or even as an adjunct. Classroom time is just part of the deal. Planning and prep time take up a lot of intellectual energy, too, but the many administrative tasks involved — grading papers, maintaining a grade book, posting weekly schedules and lecture notes online, emailing students — account for far more time.

But, again, who’s complaining?

When I agreed to teach three classes at once, I knew I was in for a challenge. But the rewards are definitely worth it.

There is no better time to be teaching Media Literacy than now. When you’ve got a new administration declaring war on the press, throwing out phony accusations of fake news, and offering “alternative facts” as a diversion from verifiable facts that show Trump and his minions in an unflattering light, well, it’s the perfect time for a course like this.

My students at PSU have eagerly engaged on the subject, admitting their own shortcomings when it comes to digital literacy but also getting quickly up to speed in understanding who is providing what content (news, opinion, advertising) on the internet and for what purpose.

In Vancouver, I’m having a great time teaching Sports and the Media, holding up organized sports as a mirror of society. Coverage of sports has gone so far beyond just games, scores and hero worship to an era of athlete activism and self-marketing and wart-and-all coverage of coaches, players and programs. I present sports as a mirror of society, touching on racism, sexism, politics, entertainment, marketing and campus sexual abuse, among other topics. (Great timing to have Super Bowl 51 come along to illustrate the intersection of so many of these themes.)

I’m also teaching Reporting Across Platforms, traditionally a writing-intensive course designed to prepare students for producing words and images for print, broadcast and digital. I’m going at it somewhat differently, in light of the fact that many students are non-communications majors (let alone non-journalism majors) and have never done journalism in their life.

Accordingly, I’m trying to provide more context about the challenges facing today’s multimedia journalists in an era of 24/7 news and social media rather than emphasize basic skills of reporting, interviewing, writing and tweeting. The students are taking baby steps, but they’re also getting introduced to media ethics and the realities of a profession under siege.

I’ll check in again when the quarter and semester are done.

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I met for coffee recently with Gosia Wozniacka, a former reporter at The Oregonian and the Associated Press, who is now teaching a journalism class at Clark College in Vancouver. We compared notes on teaching.

For now, I take comfort in knowing I’m making a difference in how these young people are seeing things more clearly now — and even putting actions behind their words.

At least three students have let me know they have begun subscribing to The Oregonian/OregonLive or least committed to buying the newspaper two days a week as a sign of their support for local journalism. Several more made it clear to me, in emails or in class discussions, that they now understand the importance of a free press in a democratic society and are changing their media consumption habits accordingly.

What more could a teacher ask for?

 

Barack, Michelle and a foot of snow

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Heavy, wet snow accumulated rapidly in Portland overnight.

Woke up precisely at 4:21 a.m. today. It was dark and it was quiet. It was also gorgeous. A lush carpet of freshly fallen snow blanketed everything I could see up and down the street.

Never in my 30-plus years of living in Portland have I ever seen this much snow fall in a single day or night. It’s like a holiday greeting card: treetops and limbs wrapped in white, parked cars buried under the stuff, not a soul stirring in the silence.

At this hour, I’m alone with my thoughts:

— President Obama’s farewell speech is still resonating in my heart and soul. His simple yet forceful call to keep working for the common good, to guard against threats to our democracy, was masterful in its simplicity. I’m sad to see him leave office but I hope his parting words inspire millions to action.

“Our youth, our drive, our diversity and openness, our boundless capacity for risk and reinvention means that the future should be ours. But that potential will only be realized if our democracy works. Only if our politics better reflects the decency of our people. Only if all of us, regardless of party affiliation or particular interests help restore the sense of common purpose that we so badly need right now.”

— I’m equally sad to see Michelle Obama come to the end of her eight years in the White House. A piece in The New York Times asked whether she will speak with a fuller voice after she is freed of the confining role of First Lady.

” As first lady, she used hints, invitations, art, sometimes even clothing to convey her viewpoint. If she mostly avoided controversial topics, her mere presence spoke volumes, and was there really any mistaking the fundamentals of what she believed?”

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One of a kind: Michelle Obama.

I, for one, hope this Harvard-trained lawyer and “mom-in-chief” will unleash the power of her intellect and empathy in continuing service to her values and to the ideals that make us better. As the Times’ Jodi Kantor points out: ” The world has only one observant, original, wildly popular African-American first lady, and for her to hoard her ideas and views would be a waste.”

— I’ll confess that one of the first things I did at this hour was to reach for my iPhone to see if the internet connection was working. I clicked onto OregonLive and there I saw the headline “Storm drops up to a foot of snow on Portland: 8 things you need to know.”

Sure, the headline is formulaic. But those 8 things gave me all the information I needed to know about accumulation, melting, school closings, bus service, etc., in a simple and concise format.

 

More to the point, I wondered how many people would pause to consider that two journalists — my former colleagues Jim Ryan and Margaret Haberman — were up ridiculously early pulling together the information for that 4 a.m. post. Readers often don’t give a thought to what’s involved in presenting timely and useful information, no matter the hour.

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View from our living room at 7:30 am.

I know from experience there’s an expectation that no matter what the weather, the newsroom stays open and people get there one way or another to cover the news of the day. It’s entirely possible that in this case Jim and Margaret did their reporting from home.

But, still, on a day when schools and colleges are shuttered, when city bus service is cut back, and all kinds of businesses close for the day, journalists at OregonLive and in other newsrooms around the city will be rising to the challenge, bringing us another day of news that we consume in the comfort of our homes.

Photograph: Lora Huntley, The Oregonian/OregonLive

Photograph: The Associated Press

The amazing Brenda Tracy

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Brenda Tracy, the last and most riveting of our guest speakers in Media Ethics, an undergraduate course at Portland State University.

If you don’t know Brenda Tracy’s story, you should.

Few, if any, of my Media Ethics students had even heard of her until Brenda spoke to them in class two weeks ago. After listening to Brenda describe her journey from gang-rape survivor with no self-esteem to self-confident public speaker on sexual abuse and rape culture, I doubt they will ever forget her.

I already knew Brenda’s compelling story, having read it two years ago when it landed on the front page of The Sunday Oregonian. But as I listened to her retell it that Thursday morning, I knew I had made the right choice inviting her to be our final guest speaker for the fall term.

My students had already learned a lot from previous speakers — a variety of journalists and public relations professionals — about how to do journalism ethically and responsibly. How to report accurately while also practicing discretion about unnecessary details. How to show empathy without losing one’s objectivity. How to interview a vulnerable subject about sensitive issues and help that person brace for the resulting public exposure and reader reaction.

But the students hadn’t heard directly from anyone who could tell them what it’s like to entrust the telling of your story — including invasive, humiliating facts — to a reporter. For an hour, they listened and learned as this remarkable woman reflected on her experiences and credited a principled and highly skilled journalist for restoring her dignity and bringing her out of the shadows. .

***

In 1998, Brenda Tracy was a waitress, a 24-year-old single mother of two boys, when she was gang-raped by four men, two college football players and two recruits, in an off-campus apartment near Oregon State University.

She’d been sexually abused as a child and had been in abusive relationships as a young woman. After the attack, Brenda said, she felt suicidal, her self-esteem in shreds.

The four men were charged but never brought to trial. The local district attorney needed Brenda’s cooperation to get convictions but she wavered, feeling lack of support from people closest to her and believing herself not strong enough to go through the process.

She didn’t know the prosecutor had taped confessions from the suspects. She didn’t know the police had tossed out her rape kit without even testing it.

She only knew that two Oregon State players were suspended for one game and ordered to give 25 hours of community service for what their coach, Mike Riley, called “a bad choice.” The other two suspects went unpunished.

Brenda said she hated Riley for years, hated him even more than her rapists. But she finally met with him this year, after he said he regretted making the “bad choice” remark, and changed her opinion of the man.

After Riley left Oregon last year to become head coach at the University of Nebraska, he invited Brenda to speak to all 144 members of his football team this summer and formally apologized to her.

“We talked about consent and we brainstormed ideas about how they could get involved individually and as a team to change the culture that valued winning over human lives,” Brenda wrote following her June 22 visit with the team. “We covered a lot of ground in that one hour and when it was over many of them came up to me and shook my hand or gave me a hug and thanked me for being there.”

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Brenda Tracy with Coach Mike Riley following their meeting in Lincoln, Nebraska on June 22, 2016. (Photograph by Brenda Tracy)

***

Today, at 43, Brenda Tracy is more than a rape survivor. Brenda is a registered nurse and a paid consultant working with Oregon State officials to prevent sexual violence, especially involving college athletes. She’s also a citizen activist who’s lobbied for changes in Oregon’s rape laws, providing more time to bring charges in the most serious cases.

She worked with a Portland attorney on 2015 legislation that extended Oregon’s statute of limitations for first-degree sex crimes from six to 12 years, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A law passed the following year provides that if new evidence emerges — such as a previously untested rape kit, or new testimony from witnesses or other victims — a case can be reconsidered at any time.

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Brenda Tracy is the featured speaker at a conference planned in Vancouver, Washington, early next year.

Since sports columnist John Canzano told her story in November 2014, Brenda has been interviewed by local and national media, appeared on television, spoken at college campuses, and testified before Oregon lawmakers.

None of these efforts to help other rape survivors would have been possible without the publication of a story that allowed her to heal emotionally. To see herself once again as a person worthy of respect. And to challenge the notion that victims are responsible for what happened to them.

“John absolutely changed my life,” Brenda said. “He transformed my entire life.”

***

Until she spoke to my class, I hadn’t met Brenda Tracy. We’d exchanged emails and spoken by phone this summer when I was setting up a Skype interview with her for two high school students I mentored during a journalism camp at Oregon State.

I was impressed that she made time to speak to the two teenagers, considering it was the day before she was scheduled to fly to Lincoln, Nebraska, to speak to Riley’s football team. A real sign of her character, I thought.

In person, Brenda was warm and gracious.She spoke without notes and patiently answered students’ questions. It was clear that her tale of personal redemption and her testament to the power of ethical journalism resonated with both men and women in my class. .

“If you write these stories, you have to understand this is a life,” she told them. “It’s not about you — it’s about the victim, it’s about the survivor.”

When the hour was up, she gave me a hug in front of the class and offered to come speak again.

We often toss around the words “hero” and “amazing” to describe people who’ve displayed uncommon courage or done extraordinary things. In my mind, there is no doubt both words apply to Brenda Tracy.

***

Read John Canzano’s 2014 story here.

Read continuing coverage of Brenda Tracy here.

Follow Brenda Tracy on Facebook here.

A round of thank-yous

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High-fives to all those who helped or inspired me before and during the fall quarter.

If it takes a village to raise a child, the same applies to a newbie educator teaching his first full-time class.

I just finished teaching Media Ethics, an undergraduate course in the Department of Communications at Portland State University. The class began in late September and wrapped up last week with a final exam and posting of grades. But the preparation began months before and I got help along the way from an assorted cast of people.

It’s time to thank each and every one.

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Cynthia-Lou Coleman

Cynthia-Lee Coleman. My biggest advocate. As chair of the Communications Department, Cindy hired me several years ago to teach two weekend “mini-courses” when I was still working at The Oregonian. No longer leading the department but still teaching as a full professor, Cindy urged me to consider adjunct teaching after I left the newsroom. She went to bat for me with her successor and I was offered a contract in June. She’s been a terrific sounding board and a constant source of reassurance during the term.

Jeffrey Robinson. The one who hired me. Jeff succeeded Cindy as Communications Department chair. He initially asked me to teach this fall and next winter. Recently, he asked me to teach in the spring quarter, too. Delighted to have his vote of confidence.

David Kennamer. An assistant professor. David has previously taught Media Ethics and has been generous sharing class materials and insights. He loaned me his textbook to read in advance of teaching the class; he welcomed me to sit in on a summer class he was teaching; and he shared his observations about today’s college students. I’ve run into him several times this term and we’ve commiserated about our classes.

Lee Shaker. Also an assistant professor. Lee also has been generous with his time. I watched him teach a Media Literacy class this spring and paid him a visit this fall to pick his brain as I’ll be teaching the course during winter quarter. During our conversation, Lee reminded me to keep the big picture in mind — doing whatever we can to help students be successful. (As a sign of how we are all connected, Lee is a cousin of Anne Saker, a talented reporter I worked with at The Oregonian and visited last spring in Cincinnati, where she now lives.)

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Bailey, one of a handful of work-study students who provided clerical help.

The work-study students in the Comm Department. I relied on a handful of students for help making photocopies of graded papers and exams before many a class. I got to know one of them, Bailey, a pre-law major from Forest Grove, better than the others because she regularly worked Tuesday and Thursday mornings when I taught. All were a huge help in saving me time and effort.

GUEST SPEAKERS

My students loved each and every one. I’m thankful to have this network of professional colleagues who so generously gave their time and shared their experiences.

Mark Katches, editor and vice president/content at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Mark provided an overview of the news industry’s transition from print to digital. While acknowledging the challenges, he also was upbeat about journalism’s continuing role as a government watchdog.

Nigel Jaquiss, Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter at Willamette Week. A Wall Street bond trader who became a journalist, Nigel left an indelible impression by explaining the difference between the public’s “right to know” and readers’ “need to know.” That’s a subtle but important distinction in providing or withholding information about public figures and captures well the concept of “discretion.”

Kyle Iboshi, investigative reporter at KGW. When Kyle talked about the challenges of doing a live TV broadcast during a street protest — think audible profanities, obscene gestures, F-bombs on handmade placards — students understood what he meant about making on-the-spot ethical decisions that strike a balance between offensive content and accuracy.

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Investigative reporters Kyle Ibohsi of KGW, left, and Nigel Jaquiss of Willamette Week discuss their craft with Media Ethics students at Portland State.

Jean Kempe-Ware, public relations consultant and former spokeswoman at Lewis & Clark College. Many of students were in kindergarten when the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal broke in the mid-90s. Jean had their full attention when she described the unethical behavior of mainstream journalists trying to get confidential information about Monica Lewinsky, a former student at the private liberal arts college in Portland where Jean worked at the time.

Chris Broderick, associate vice president for communications and marketing at Portland State. A former colleague at The Oregonian, Chris transitioned to public relations a few years ago and now oversees a staff of 18 at PSU. He spoke candidly about missteps the university made when it lined up a press conference to announce a major gift from an anonymous donor — only to have the gift fall through when officials learned the donor didn’t have the financial resources he claimed.

Dianne Danowski Smith, vice president at Publix Northwest. This public relations pro uttered a phrase that stuck with the class and wound up as a question on the final term. In today’s digital media environment we  have “too many publishers, not enough editors.”

John Schrag, executive editor at the Pamplin Media Group, the chain of suburban newspapers ringing the metro area. John previously was editor and publisher of the News-Times in Forest Grove and still resides there. When you’re a well-known journalist living in a small town, conflicts of interest involving your employer and family members are par for the course, he told students.

Samantha Swindler, Metro columnist at The Oregonian/OregonLive and Oregon Territory chapter president of the Society of Professional Journalists. Samantha, who also has endured life in a fishbowl in Forest Grove, urged students to be more savvy about their media consumption — a challenge that prompted some pushback.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter at Oregon Public Broadcasting. One week after America elected a new president, the pre-eminent political reporter in Oregon paid us a visit to share his deep knowledge of Northwest politics and campaign coverage. Jeff admitted he and just about everyone else underestimated Donald Trump.

Beth Nakamura, photojournalist extraordinaire at The Oregonian/OregonLive. Beth made a profound impression in discussing the ethical aspects of photojournalism — a concept that had never occurred to most in the class. She talked about the taboo of staging a news photo and of her commitment to increasing the visibility of ordinary people. This, she said, can be done through visual storytelling suffused with honesty and dignity.

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Raised in a working class town in western Massachusetts, photojournalist Beth Nakamura says she seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” — a saying that originated with Chicago journalist Finley Peter Dunne in 1902.

Brenda Tracy, sexual assault survivor and citizen lobbyist. For our final class, I asked the victim of a heinous crime — a gang-rape that went un-prosecuted in the late 1990s — to talk about what it’s like to entrust your story to a journalist and find yourself thrust into the media spotlight. Brenda said she regained her self-esteem and later joined in efforts to reform Oregon’s rape laws — and declared none of it would have been possible without accurate, meticulous, ethical reporting by John Canzano of The Oregonian/OregonLive.

***

Finally, a tip of the hat to a trio of professors across the country who offered tips and inspiration, directly and indirectly: Dean Miller, Jacqui Banaszynski, Angie Chuang.

And last, but certainly not least…

Lori Rauh Rede. My wife, my rock. Only Lori knows how many hours I devoted to preparing for and slogging through this term. She listened to my stories — of success and disappointment, of surprise and inspiration — and she tolerated the many nights and weekends I spent preparing lectures and slideshows, grading essays and exams, and doing outside reading.

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My beautiful wife, Lori.

We went to dinner last week at a favorite Lebanese restaurant to celebrate the end of the term. It was hardly enough. I know I am truly fortunate to have the love and support of this woman I first locked eyes with on the student newspaper staff at San Jose State.

Previously: 9 takeaways from Media Ethics

Next: The amazing Brenda Tracy

9 takeaways from Media Ethics

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The transition from journalist to educator began this fall with my teaching of an undergraduate communications class at Portland State. (Photograph: The Oregonian)

In late September, I stood in front of a group of 33 young adults in a university classroom. They had registered for Comm 410, an undergraduate Media Ethics course at Portland State University, and I’d been hired as their adjunct instructor.

Like a new kid on the first day of school, I felt a jumble of emotions — nervousness, excitement and confidence, for sure, but mostly curiosity about how this venture would go and what we would learn together along the way.

Just 11 weeks later, I’m astonished at how quickly the academic quarter came and went. I’m also very satisfied — and very proud — at how everything came together for the students and me.

Related reading: My second act

Numerical scores and letter grades provide ways of measuring student achievement. But they don’t fully capture the individual progress one sees in a student who makes a commitment to embrace an unfamiliar subject. These were communications majors, not journalism students, and they knew far less than I imagined about the broad challenges facing contemporary mass media, let alone the differences among various local and national news outlets.

Much to my delight, several students emerged with newfound knowledge about the subject and, equally important, with insights into their own character.

As for me, I had multiple “ah-ha” moments along the way. Not the least of which was recognizing I needed to dial back my expectations if the students and I were going to be successful.

I came in thinking I’d be strict about insisting each and every writing assignment was turned in on time. After all, I reasoned, meeting deadlines is essential not just in journalism but in life in general. I also came in thinking I would turn a deaf ear to what I imagined would be a litany of excuses of why things couldn’t get done on time.

I was wrong. So wrong.

Simply put, I led with my head and learned with my heart.

***

There was no better time to teach Media Ethics than the fall of 2016. We were in the throes of a presidential campaign that never failed to surprise how low we could go as a nation in choosing the next occupant of the White House. Everyone had their take on the news media as a lap dog, watch dog or scapegoat.

This maelstrom of tweets, investigative reports, pussygate videos, rally coverage and “fake news” blazing across social media — all of it cried out for context and understanding. Meeting twice a week for two hours at a time, we sought to familiarize ourselves with philosophical concepts and ethical news values (such as accuracy, tenacity, transparency and equity) that could be applied to contemporary digital and print journalism.

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Happy to be hired as an adjunct instructor.

With a roster of guest speakers whose real-world experiences made our textbook lessons come alive, we connected the dots in ways that left indelible impressions on the students. Hearing how these highly principled editors, reporters, photographers and public relations professionals were drawn to their work in the first place — and how they have dealt with so many tough ethical decisions in their careers — was eye-opening for the class.

These discussions were invariably livelier than anything I might present in a lecture, but that was my purpose. I wanted to lay the groundwork and then have each guest discuss a specific issue and/or recall a particular story that imparted a lesson. It worked.

***

So now, with the final exam in the rearview mirror and final grades posted, it’s time for my 9 takeaways. Some of these I already knew. Others I learned with my head, others with my heart.

1. Embrace diversity. In a class of 33 students, I had 18 men, 15 women. Of these, 15 were racial or ethnic minorities and 7 were athletes — 3 football players, 3 softball players and 1 sprinter on the track team. All were juniors and seniors, except for one sophomore. At least two were young moms. Another was the parent of two college-age daughters.

2. Make connections. On the first day, I told my students I grew up in a working-class, ethnic household and was the first in my family to attend college. I worked part-time and commuted 20 miles to school my first two years. I know the same was true for many of my students. Some were holding down two jobs and at least one was working full-time. Some were young parents as well. On a campus where the average age is 26, I could relate to these young adults as if they were my own children.

3. Be flexible. I came in thinking I’d be unyielding about deadlines. I didn’t anticipate the extent to which life intervenes. Students fell ill or had parents who did, necessitating visits to the emergency room. Others had employers who changed their work hours or scheduled mandatory training that conflicted with class hours. I saw no reason to penalize students who were trying their best to juggle school, work and family. In the end, what mattered to me was that the work got done.

media-ethics-cover-copy4. Be patient. Two weeks into the term, I realized I had expected too much too soon. I’d assigned the first paper, asking students to connect their media consumption to one of a handful of ethical principles we’d discussed during our first classes. Reading their essays, it became obvious that they didn’t possess the same vocabulary I’d developed as a journalist nor had they been exposed to basic concepts I took for granted. I decided to return their papers with constructive feedback but no grades. More important, I announced we were hitting the reset button and starting fresh with Week Three. In retrospect, a good decision.

5. Bring in the experts. If there is anything that set my class apart, it was the ability to bring in local journalists and public relations professionals as guest speakers. Students heard from 11 individuals representing The Oregonian/OregonLive, Willamette Week, KGW, Pamplin Media Group, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland State University and more. It was a delight to see the interaction. Students’ questions elicited thoughtful responses from the pros that made it clear doing journalism or PR means constantly dealing with ethical dilemmas. How do you obtain and present the news? How do you deal with vulnerable sources and conflicts of interest? How do you frame stories and own up to errors? How you conduct yourself reflects on your personal integrity and your employer’s credibility.

6. Ask for help. I sought out plenty of assistance long before the first class from senior and junior faculty members in the Communications Department — and continued doing so as the term went on. I adapted some of what I’d seen online to my syllabus. More than once, I consulted with technical support staff so I’d know how to deal with classroom technology. And, not least, I relied on work-study students in the Comm Department for help photocopying essays and exams.

7. Be real. As the term went on, I became increasingly mindful of the big picture. Portland State is an urban campus with a high percentage of first-generation, part-time and transfer students where only 41 percent of full-time freshmen graduate within six years. (Compare that to just over 60 percent at the University of Oregon and Oregon State University.) You’ll never confuse this place with an elite liberal arts campus situated in some small town far away from urban areas. In such places, students straight out of high school typically have the luxury of going to school full-time, often with minimal financial worries or family obligations. At Portland State, not so much.

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8. Be encouraging. Understanding that everyone starts in a different place gave me the perspective to calibrate my criticism. With some students who struggled to express themselves clearly, it was a matter of editing their papers in a way that reinforced the basics of grammar, punctuation and word choice. With more advanced students, it was a matter of challenging them to consider this idea or that concept. In either case, it had to be done with respect, not condescension, and I took care to praise visible progress. As I graded the final exam, I got a lump in my throat seeing that one student who had struggled early on had scored 90, the fourth-highest score in the class. Late in the term, about one-third of the class opted to do an extra-credit assignment to boost their chances of a better grade. For many, it was their best paper of the term.

9. Be grateful. In their last writing assignment and in emails, several students said they had learned a lot from the course and now viewed the mass media in an entirely different, more positive way. Some said Media Ethics was their favorite class. A few even said they were applying ethical principles to their behavior in everyday life. And then there was this from one of my quieter students: “This class truly changed my life and allowed me to learn so much…It changed my life in guiding me in a different career direction, and validating my thoughts of being a journalist. I know now that I am capable of being a journalist, and by taking this class I found that I possess a lot of the characteristics that it takes to be a good journalist. Thank you!!!!”

Seeing I had that kind of impact is pretty humbling and makes me excited for next term. I’ll be teaching Media Literacy during the winter quarter. Six of my students have signed up for the class. I take that as a good sign.

Next: A round of thank-yous

My second act

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Nice way to welcome the new adjunct instructor.

Who would have imagined at this point in my career that I would undergo not one but two orientations as a new employee?

Few people, I’m sure. But, then, sometimes things just fall into place better than one can imagine.

Yes, I’m back at work again. Nine months after leaving The Oregonian/OregonLive as part of a buyout offer extended to senior employees, I’ve been hired to teach in a college classroom and work for a educational nonprofit. The two jobs allow me to draw on my journalism experiences in pursuit of twin interests in education and career development.

I’ve enjoyed the time off I’ve had since Jan. 1 to relax and recharge, to sample the early-retiree lifestyle of regular exercise, lots of reading and writing, and a steady diet of coffees, breakfasts and happy hours with assorted friends. There’s even been some travel to new places.

But all the while I’ve kept open the possibility of returning to work if the right opportunities were to come along. I’m happy — no, delighted — to say that’s the case.

Last week, I started a part-time job as communications coordinator at Portland Workforce Alliance, a small but influential organization that works with employers, teachers and students to expand career and technical education opportunities for high school students.

pwa_logo_home2Along with a board of directors and hundreds of volunteers, the staff helps to arrange career days, job site visits, mock interviews, internships and more, all with an aim of exposing students to the world of work and what it takes to break in and sustain a career, whether it’s in the trades or as a professional as an architect, graphic designer or software engineer.

I love that the organization makes an extra effort to reach kids at public schools where diversity and poverty rates are higher, where students are most likely to be first in their family to attend college.

I’m working with three other full-time employees, led by executive director Kevin Jeans Gail, a former neighbor and all-around good guy who was instrumental in founding the nonprofit in 2005. I’m also working again with Susan Nielsen, a marvelously talented former colleague who was an editorial writer at The Oregonian when I was the Sunday Opinion Editor.

portland-state-university_416x416This week I also started as an adjunct instructor in the Communications Department at Portland State University. I’m teaching Media Ethics this fall and Media Literacy next winter. Both are lecture/discussion courses looking at the spectrum of mass media — journalism, public relations and advertising — rather than hands-on journalism.

Yesterday was my first class and it went very well. I’ve got a diverse group of about 30 communications majors, nearly all of them juniors or seniors. Many are in their mid-20s and many are working and/or raising a family. I’m confident we’re going to learn a lot together.

(Click on images to view captions.)

I’ve previously worked with young adults in the classroom. Twice before I’ve taught weekend courses at Portland State. Years earlier, I was a guest faculty member at summer training programs at UC Berkeley and the University of Arizona that helped prepare people of color for entry-level journalism jobs. Along the way, I also worked as as an editor on student newspaper projects at national conventions of minority journalists.

Some people might think I’m crazy to give up the leisurely schedule I’ve enjoyed these last few months. But I’m excited and invigorated by the twin opportunities that have come my way. (A big shout-out here to Professor Cynthia-Lou Coleman, who hired initially me to teach at PSU and encouraged me to apply again as an adjunct.)

My hours vary during the week, but my Fridays  are free — and I’m already looking forward to an additional teaching gig during the spring semester at Washington State University’s Vancouver campus.

Am I a lucky man? Damn right.

 

Quiet town, quiet time

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Looking north on the paved riverfront path that brought solitude during a couple of morning runs in Corvallis.

There was a time when I was a regular visitor to Corvallis. I’d go down to Oregon State University two to three times a year to meet with student journalists interested in The Oregonian’s internship programs.

It’s been a while, though, so I was pleased to return recently as one of several professional mentors at a summer journalism camp for Oregon and southwest Washington high school students.

Read their work on the Oregon Teens blog on OregonLive.

I spent lots of time with students in the newsroom and many hours hanging out with peers from The Oregonian/OregonLive. I’ve always valued alone time, though, so I rose early a few times to go out for an early morning run through the OSU campus and into the downtown area.

It’s a simple pleasure I never tire of.

Running at a leisurely pace, following an impromptu route, I notice things I’d probably miss if I were driving by or sleeping in — such as a deer, wandering a residential neighborhood southeast of campus.

I ran on a Sunday morning, my favorite time of the week, when all is quiet. I went out again Tuesday and Thursday mornings and there wasn’t much difference, no doubt because so many students are away for the summer.

In any case, here are a few postcards from Corvallis.

 

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A welcome sign across the street from our hotel on the south end of campus.

HSJI.SEC The journalism institute took place on the 4th floor of the Student Experience Center.

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A mix-up at the front desk meant we had to figure out how to deal with one room, two beds and three dudes. From left, roommates George Rede, Dillon Pilorget and Tony Hernandez.

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Highly recommended: Hobo hash at The Broken Yolk cafe.

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My hard-working students: Toli Tate, left, and Kyler Kaykeo take notes during an interview with a state senator.

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The Oregon State campus is well maintained with lots of trees and wide streets.

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The 2016 High School Journalism Institute crew, relaxing at the Block 15 brewpub. From left, counterclockwise: Emily Smith, Cathy Noah, Eder Campuzano (talk to the hand), Elliot Njus, Tony Hernandez, George Rede, Molly Harbarger, Samantha Bakall, Molly Young (camp director, extraordinaire) and Gina Mizell.

More photos from camp on Twitter: #hsji2016