One of the great privileges of journalism is the opportunity to become embedded in the communities we cover. At this point, we are no longer tourists dropping in on a town, but we become in-tune with the issues, angst and victories felt within the public atmosphere. It has been a wonderful summer venturing into Pendleton and learning about a small town on the other side of the state.
When I first found out I was offered an internship through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism, I visited my photojournalism professor’s office to tell him the good news. It was still early in the selection process and I didn’t know where I would be spending my summer yet. My professor mused that if he were to receive one of these internships, he would like to be placed at a newspaper in a rural community.
“Wouldn’t it be cool to go to a place where it’s normal to wear cowboy hats and boots every day?” he asked.
“Yeah, I guess that would be pretty cool,” I thought to myself.
Lo and behold, a couple weeks later I learned I would be interning at the East Oregonian.
I’d never really been to Eastern Oregon before. I’d driven through it on road trips to Utah and Montana, but I never stopped to see what this half of the state has to offer. During my time here, I often found myself wishing I were able to see the world through my photojournalism professor’s eyes. I know that if he were here he would be able to take deeply moving photographs of the little things that make Pendleton.
When I left Eugene I wasn’t sure what I would find. As the evergreen forests that have been so familiar to me since childhood gave way to the tawny color of never-ending plains, I experienced equal parts nostalgia and excitement. It certainly seemed like a new adventure.
I once had a source ask me how I was adjusting to the culture in Pendleton.
“Well, people wear cowboy hats every day, and that’s different,” I said.
But as far as political differences between my hometown of Eugene, which is seemingly liberal, and Pendleton, which is seemingly conservative, it didn’t seem like too much change at all.
As a journalist, I don’t talk about my political ideologies. I just try to listen. But what I really noticed is that both places are made up of people, and that is the crux of it all. We are all imperfect humans who nonetheless have heart and soul.
In a transforming country that appears as if it becomes more divisive every day, I remembered the one thing that binds us all together is our own humanity. I once had a journalism professor tell me, “People are complicated.” And that’s the truth.
So when it feels like red versus blue, us versus them or East versus West, it’s important to keep in mind that we all want to feel accepted, loved and important.
Thank you to the East Oregonian for allowing me to join in on a summer I will never forget. And thank you to Pendleton for offering friendly faces, kindness and open arms.
Brittany Norton was the summer intern for the East Oregonian.