#8: Summary

This blog post is going be very self-involved and maybe not too interesting, so I apologize in advance, but I thought I should end this thing up with a summary of what I have gained from my time at the Ester Republic. Because I registered in the Internship Notation Program, I made three basic goals for my internship at the beginning of the summer. These were to learn interview skills, learn to write interesting and informative articles on a variety of subjects, and learn how to incorporate social media into journalism, and I think I have made some headway in each of these areas. I made a professional Facebook page and created a Twitter account, but I didn’t use them extensively, so I definitely accomplished more in the first two goals than in the third. Now I feel much more confident interviewing strangers on a multitude of topics than I did at the beginning of the summer. I also believe I have improved my writing skills, since I have had experience with a new format that I don’t typically use during the academic year.

I have learned that being a professional in an internship is a much different experience than being a student. In college, the only thing you really have to worry about is theoretical knowledge. It is passable, if not encouraged, to show up to class in sweatpants with breakfast in tow. In an internship, it is important to use theoretical knowledge in conjunction with practical skills, so it is a more rounded experience. This summer, it was just as important to remember little things like changing the batteries in a tape recorder, dressing professionally, or getting a person’s contact information for any follow-up questions as it was to be able to write well. This is a useful thing for every college student to learn, in my opinion. Theoretical knowledge is not very valuable unless you learn how to apply it practically.

Internships also give students an opportunity to learn more about themselves and what they expect/enjoy in the workplace. I confirmed that I do enjoy working in an environment where I can constantly research and learn new things. I learned that I like to have a certain amount of freedom in the workplace, but unfortunately I also learned that this freedom can make it difficult to motivate myself. I worked on developing strategies for keeping myself focused while working independently, because I think I would enjoy someday working in a job where I have a certain level of self-autonomy.

I enjoyed the internship overall, so I would definitely consider another internship or job in journalism in the future. Although I have still not completely made up my mind about my future career path, I had expected to feel that way at the end of the internship. I know many smart, driven people in their late 20s who have not completely figured out their “career,” and I have read that the average American changes careers seven times in their life. I would be very surprised if I had a fully worked out career path by the end of college, especially since I don’t exactly have a Type A sort of personality. Still, I feel that I have gained experience in a field that I could see myself applying for a job in at some point. My editor contacted me recently to say that he would be happy to write a recommendation for me in the future, which is endlessly valuable, and I will have published clips to include in applications. I have also learned some things about what I am looking for in the professional world, and I think that will aid me in my future job search.

Thanks to anyone who read this blog, and thanks again to the Career Center for supporting me through my first internship!

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#7: Writing a Profile and the Unsustainability of Alaska

So… I have officially left Alaska! After a 13-hour trip (which is still way shorter than the trip up there!) I arrived back home in Farmville, Virginia. Here it is much warmer and much, much, MUCH more humid. Still it is good to be home.

However, I still have one article I am finishing up for the Ester Republic. This is a profile of Christiana Lunabe, a contact of my editor’s from college and an interesting person. The interview with Ms. Lunabe was my favorite so far, because instead of coming up with a bunch of technical questions on a very specific subject, I basically just hung out with her in a coffee shop. I had several questions prepared, but after that, I let the conversation go where it would. Most people love talking about themselves, and I genuinely love listening to other people talk about themselves, unless they are mean, arrogant, or just plain annoying. Ms. Lunabe was none of these.

My editor had told me some of Ms. Lunabe’s environmental views, so we started with that subject. She told me that she did not think it was possible for modern Americans to live in Alaska sustainably, and she had moved out of the state for that reason (she was just back for a few weeks to visit family). Ms. Lunabe had a point. Food in Alaska is extremely expensive, which I definitely noticed while trying to keep myself alive on minimum wage over the summer, because 95% of it is imported. In addition, almost anyone who lives in Alaska will tell you about how expensive it is for them to heat their homes over the winter.

Besides the climate, there are also a lot of power plants in Alaska that burn coal. Ms. Lunabe told me that she had thought she had allergies her whole life until she moved to San Francisco and they miraculously cleared up. It seems crazy to me that Fairbanks would be more congested than San Francisco, considering the comparative sizes of the cities and the amount of wilderness around Fairbanks, but in other ways it makes sense. Alaska seems to be about 5-10 years behind the lower 48 in terms of culture, technology, and just how things are generally done. Alaska is also a fairly libertarian state politically; for example, all citizens of age are allowed to freely carry hidden firearms without a permit. I had actually had some allergy symptoms while I was living in Fairbanks as well, and I was very happy to hear that it was because of the coal and not something I would have to deal with forever.

After a long conversation on the sustainability of Alaska, we moved on to discussing Ms. Lunabe’s life in San Francisco. This was interesting to me because the city is much more progressive than my hometown in southern Virginia. Ms. Lunabe was telling me that she lived in a cooperative living situation with about ten other people. They rented a building in a designated commercial part of the city, so they did not have to follow many regulations such as noise limits. Because of this, they often held events there for artists or musicians, which they paid for out of a communal fund. This fund could also pay for somebody’s share of the rent one month if they suddenly lost their job, so they would never have to worry about losing the roof over their heads. I had never heard of this type of living situation before, but it sounded great! Maybe someday I will live in San Francisco.

I can’t believe the summer is almost over! I will write one more post, then my blog about the Ester Republic will be done. Thanks again for anyone who is reading this J

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#6: White Mountains

This week, I was assigned several new articles by my editor, so the last two weeks of this internship will be very busy! Jeremia said he would like me to write one on an environmental subject, one economic, one political, and one profile. I suggested that the environmental one be on the White Mountains National Recreation Area, because there has been some talk of mining there, and earlier in the summer, I met a group at the Ester 4th of July parade who were advocating for it being kept as a recreation area. After sending out a few emails about possibly interviews and doing preliminary research, I decided to take a trip out there to see it myself!

Looking at the maps of the area, I could see that about 8 miles down a trail in the popular Wickersham Dome area was a trail shelter, an enclosed cabin. This sounded perfect for me, as it meant I did not have to carry a tent and my pack would be lighter. I started walking down Summit trail at around 5:00. Since the sun goes down so late here (when it goes down at all), I knew it wouldn’t be a problem to start that late in the day. The area was beautiful…low mountains everywhere covered in tundra, big rock formations, and dense pine forest. On the drive to Alaska, my friend Meghan was reading a book about logging and she had mentioned that a lot of Alaska’s forests are actually temperate rainforest. This had really surprised me, but in the White Mountains, I understood it. On every inch of ground grew some sort of vegetation, and most of it had lichens, moss, or vines adding another layer on top of that. Many parts of the trail were muddy, and in every stretch of mud footprints from what had to be at least five different species of animal could be seen.

It was a long walk, and I didn’t see anybody the whole time. This was the first time I’d ever gone backpacking on my own, and I truly couldn’t believe how big the empty space around me was. Later in the night, it started to scare me a little. The sun started to go down behind a mountain, and although visibility was still fine, shadows were starting to form. I hadn’t spotted the cabin yet and was worried that I had somehow missed it. Then I ran into a porcupine going around a bend in the trail. This was amazing, and I stood there for probably fifteen minutes watching it. It really didn’t seem to care that I was standing ten feet away. Sometimes it would get really still and sniff a lot in my general direction, but then it would go back to relaxing and munching on leaves. I had to figure out how to get around it, and got lost from the trail for a little while. Even though I would have never expected to see a porcupine in the wild and was really excited, this started me worrying about other surprise animal visitors. Big predators like grizzly bears, wolves, and lynx roam free in these areas, and I was starting to get really worried. Finally I spotted the cabin farther down the trail from a spot on top of a mountain, and I was so relieved. The cabin was really cozy, and there was a lot of wood left under it for fires, so I made one and sat outside for a while before passing out. The next day was entirely rainy and not the most fun walk back, especially since I had forgotten gloves and it was pretty cold. Still, it was really cool to see the creepy forests of pines with long beards of lichen coated with water and dripping in the rain.

The next morning before work, I went to the Bureau of Land Management to talk to the Planning and Environmental Coordinator. This interview went well and cleared up all of my confusions about the research I had initially done. They know that there is gold in the White Mountains, and there is a possibility that there are rare earth minerals such as those used for making electronics as well. However, since the area is reserved as a National Recreation Area, mining claims are not allowed. They have recently found that the laws would allow for mining leases, as long as they did not interfere with the recreational, scenic, and scientific purposes of the land. Currently, they are investigating the impact that the mining leases would have on these designated purposes, and if it seems low, they will consider it as an alternative. It would not be the preferred alternative, and it would have to go through many stages before it could be passed, during which people would be allowed to protest. So it does not seem very likely that this beautiful, empty, porcupine-filled wilderness will be mined in any time soon!

For my other articles, I am thinking of writing the economics one on the Arctic Fox Natural Gas pipeline, which an economics grad student housemate of mine is always talking about. I will write the profile on an environmentalist originally from Alaska who has moved because she does not believe that it is possible to live sustainably in Alaska in modern times. We will meet on Monday, so that should be interesting and easy to wrap up! As for the political topic, I am not totally sure yet, but my publisher has had lots of ideas.

I’ll keep you updated on all of this soon, and thanks for reading!

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Post #5: Tying up some loose ends

Typically, I’ve been titling my blog posts by the week, but I’m so behind on this one, I won’t even do that. The first reason for the delay is just plain business…between my job, writing up articles and essays for the Internship Notation program, and bumming around Alaska, I have not been keeping up with this. The second is that I was not completely sure what to write about! Most of what I have done in the time since I last posted was finished up articles I have already written about on this site. Right now, I’m at a little bit of a loss for what to do. Some day soon I will meet with my editor and go over everything, but he is busy. One downside of the Ester Republic not being a large organization is that sometimes they don’t have a large amount of organization either. This is not always a bad thing. I understand that they don’t have the same style as large daily newspapers, nor do they have to, and I’m not the most organized person myself. Still, the wait is a little frustrating right now, especially since I’m not here for too much longer.

One thing that I have noticed while writing articles is that I have a definite turning point from hating everything about everything when I’m starting out to actually enjoying it once I get going. The problem is reducing the time spent going from point A to point B. I’m in an incredibly beautiful part of the country I have never been in before, and I really don’t want to spend a lot of time procrastinating on Facebook and StumbleUpon. However, sometimes it really doesn’t help to just pull up Microsoft Word with no distractions. That’s when I can start to stare at the screen blankly before deciding that I’m hungry and need to go spend half an hour making an omelette. I’ve discovered that the best strategy is to go ahead and procrastinate, but procrastinate with a purpose. If I’m writing about a particular topic, I’ll only allow myself to surf parts of the internet that pertain to that topic. That way, I allow myself a break and keep my focus at the same time. Sometimes I’ll even find additional information or inspiration. This is something that can be applied to papers during the academic year as well, so I am glad to have figured it out for sure.

Thanks for reading, and the next blog post will be coming soon!

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Fourth Week: Angry, Young, and Poor

The fourth week of my internship, I covered the Angry, Young, and Poor, music festival in Ester. To begin with, I interviewed one of the organizers (or disorganizers, as they called themselves), about the music festival, which she had actually started herself 20 years ago. I didn’t have to take notes since I had a tape recorder that my editor had given me. When I listened to the tape while working on the story, I had to smile at the sounds of old men drunk-rambling and lighting cigarettes. The interview took place in the Golden Eagle Saloon, where the disorganizer bartended for the opening 4:45 shift. She was really helpful and told me all about the night when her and her friends had gotten the idea for the festival because they were incredibly bored, had no money, and were not old enough for bars.

The music festival was a few days later. I went with my best friend up here, and we had a really good time. There was awesome food, a bunch of the bands in the early part of the day were really good, people were just giving out free clothes, and he was really excited that a guy was leaving out free canvases and paints for anyone to use. “I always loved to paint, ever since I was a little kid,” said my Army Infantry, whiskey-drinking, football-loving best friend, while I stared at him in disbelief.

Later in the day, it got harder. The festival started at 12, so by 7, we’d already been there for a really long time. This was when the bands began playing 1-hour sets. We almost reached our breaking point when one band came on, dedicated their first song to “mother nature,” and proceeded to chant while strumming mandolins and whatever the correct word is for playing rainsticks. They were all legitimately great musicians, and I thought rainsticks were cool when I was like 10 years old, but it was really hard to sit there for over five minutes. However, we stuck it out, and the last band made up for it a little bit.

The best part of the festival was its free-spirited atmosphere. The Alaska sky was huge, the breeze was cool, having come miles from some still-snowy mountains, almost everything was costless, and the people were friendly. I guess I am their perfect target audience, since I am “Angry, Young, and Poor,” minus the angry most of the time. Mainly, I’m just poor. I have one dollar left in my savings account and ten dollars in my wallet. The Career Center gave me an amazing grant for my internship, which is how I made it thus far. (And thank you Career Center, if any of you are reading this!) However, I underestimated the cost of the drive up here, and I impulsively bought a mountain bike in Missoula, Montana. I have a job, but they only pay us once a month! So I have been poor for a few weeks and greatly appreciated all of the hospitality in Ester.

I’m also grateful for all the time and energy that has been spent on me by my editor and publisher….So far, the internship has been a great experience!

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Third Week: 4th of July Parade

This week has been exhausting with starting a new job and continuing my internship, so this will be a short post, but I’ve had lots of good times and successes! In addition to finishing all the research for the biking article, I covered the 4th of July parade in Ester, a crazy display including a fake marching band with “instruments” made of plants (the co-op farm), an “Occupy Sesame Street” float, and a VW bug painted in a trippy pattern of multicolored peace signs and flowers.

At the parade, I basically just had a great time. Ester is a unique town for sure, and it really showed. I’ve heard that their parade is better than the one in downtown Fairbanks though, and I believe it. Afterwards I spent time talking to the judges while they drank bloody marys in the Golden Eagle Saloon and talking to the parade winner (Occupy Sesame Street) while petting the gold curls-adorned pig standing on the float and eating the flesh of one of her roasted kinsmen in the middle of a huge town barbeque. I wrote the article in the few days after the event. It was a little difficult to figure out how to frame it without giving too much attention to one float or just listing everyone who walked down the street, which would get boring. However, once I started writing it, it worked itself out. I ended up putting it in terms of how Ester’s parade was different from most parades, which allowed me to talk about almost all of the floats with a voice that kept it from being unreadably dull.

Signs from the Occupy Sesame Street float (just because I think they’re funny):

  • 99% of the cookies are eaten by 1% of the monsters
  • The few prosper while others live in garbage cans
  • List of grievances: the number 1, the number 2, the number 3, the number 4 (brought to you by the letter $***)

Again…thanks for reading, and I hope you had a great 4th!

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Week Two: Interview Frustrations and Time Abroad in the People’s Independent Republic of Ester

Hello to anyone reading this blog! I have started my second week at the Ester Republic and am still enjoying my time here in Fairbanks, Alaska. This week I’ve been continuing my work on the article about biking in Fairbanks and continuing to update my journalism Facebook page and new twitter account. I went out to Ester for the first time to meet the publisher and get a key and tour of the office, and I started work on two new assignments. Since I saw my friend Meghan off this week (she’s making the long drive to Virginia again, with her dad this time around) and have been hard-core job hunting, it has been a very busy week!

I started off feeling great about the biking article. I had a wide-ranging list of contacts with various points of view to speak to about the issue, and I emailed them all, introducing myself and asking if they were available for an interview. I tried to be really accommodating, offering to do the interview over email or phone if it was easier. However, two days went by, and I had nothing. Finally, after five full days, I had one response from the bike and pedestrian coordinator for the Alaska Department of Transportation. This one, at least, was very helpful. He referred me to a lady who had essentially the same job, just more concentrated in Fairbanks, and attached a PDF with the new 2012 plan for non-motorized transportation in the Fairbanks area. This document was about 140 pages long and chock-full of information I can use for the article. Great! However, I emailed the lady he referred me to with a few questions and have not received an answer, from her or any of the others I tried to contact.

Then, I proceeded to search for my other hopeful interviewees’ phone numbers. I called these and had no answer anywhere. I left messages and my phone number, but nobody has called me back. I am so frustrated. Last night, I spoke with my editor Jeremia Schrock over Facebook, and he told me this was “par for the course.” This made me feel simultaneously better and much, much worse; it can’t be much fun to play a hole when the par seems to be like, seven. But then again, I’m not an experienced golfer… or an experienced journalist. Jeremia recommended that I try to call them again and if I still had no response within 24 hours, bike to their offices. So we’ll see how that goes. Hopefully I’ll get better results this time around, but I’ll keep you updated.

Luckily, I’ve had other things to distract me from the slow pace of my biking article. Going out to Ester was one of the most interesting experiences of the entire trip. About an hour and a half bike ride (uphill) from Fairbanks, the village of Ester is one of the coolest towns I’ve seen in a long time. There aren’t any paved roads and very few people anywhere to be seen. A remarkable number of greenhouses crowd the little houses and cabins along the road, a large wooden tower rises out of one house’s roof, and while trying to find the Golden Eagle Saloon parking lot where I would meet my publisher, I stumbled into the oldest still-functioning bar in Alaska, the Malemute Saloon, where a bunch of local girls were hanging out singing and playing bluegrass songs on the guitar.

The adventure continued even after I found the Golden Eagle and my publisher Deirdre Helfferich pulled up in a green station wagon, accompanied by her husband Hans and large black puppy Oliver. I jumped in the back with Oliver, and we headed over to the Republic’s office. Amazingly, the office looked exactly as I had pictured it, a medium-sized room with a large desk cluttered with papers, a computer in one corner, and old covers of the Republic depicting everything from otters to a girl in a sequined masquerade mask, pasted around the walls.

Ms. Helfferich and I had an interesting conversation in the office. She described some of the history of the daily news, which I had never heard before. Who knew it began during the French Revolution, because so much was happening every day, and that was their only way of receiving reliable information about who was most recently beheaded? Ms. Helfferich also talked about problems with the current mainstream media, such as the increasingly small number of people who own it and control the information that most Americans consume daily. This was something that really disturbed me, since I think it’s difficult to have a true, effective democracy when so few voices are being heard. We also discussed many examples of alternative press such as the Guardian and talked about the pros and cons of both systems. Overall, this conversation really made me think, both about American media, which is interesting to me as an American Studies major, and about my own aspirations in journalism. Where would I fit in in this swiftly changing field? This is a question I’d definitely like to have a better answer to by the end of the summer.

Ms. Helfferich left me with some reading materials and directions to the Ester Public library. Sitting in a cozy armchair in this cute, one-room, red building, eating a tuna sandwich and reading an alternative press paper printed in Anchorage, I had one of those moments when you just look around and are like…how on earth did I end up here? This is a moment I never expected to have in my life, but I’m glad it happened. The more moments like this I have, the more I feel like it’s pointless to make long-term plans at all! As far as short-term plans go, however, I’ve got some pretty good ones for the next few weeks. On Wednesday, I’ll be covering the 4th of July Parade in Ester, which is supposed to be better than the one in Fairbanks. The weekend after next, I’ll be on duty at the Angry, Young, & Poor music festival in Ester. I’ve also got two probable jobs opening up at Holy Dog Kennel and Hot Licks Ice Cream. My list of obligations reads: hang out outside watching parades and listening to music, make ice cream, and play with dogs. What a summer. 🙂

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First Week!

Hello, everyone! This week, after a long road trip from Virginia including a 21-hour sprint to the Minneapolis Passport Agency for a last-minute book (who knew that you need a passport, not to get into Canada, but to get BACK into the U.S.?? And what would they do if I didn’t have one? Deport me?), a stop in Glacier National park, a few breathtakingly beautiful days on the Icefields Parkway in Canada, spotting nine black bears along the side of the highway in one day, and five days of being stranded in the Yukon due to the biggest washout of the Alaska highway in anyone’s memory, I have finally made it to Fairbanks, Alaska to begin my internship at the Ester Republic!

On Monday, I met my editor, Jeremia Schrock, at a coffee shop in Fairbanks. Mr. Schrock (or Jeremia, as he wants me to call him, although I still have such trouble referring to adults by their first names) was really nice, and we had a great conversation. A good amount of it was getting to know each other, and for me, getting to know more about the Ester Republic. This is an organization that publishes a monthly newspaper. It also occasionally publishes books, but since they are very picky about the books they publish, as Jeremia explained, the main focus is the newspaper. The paper has two editors, Jeremia and a woman I have not yet met named Deirdre Helfferich. Although its office is based in Ester, Alaska, a tiny town outside of Fairbanks, it concerns itself with all issues in the Fairbanks area, and it is written by the editors as well as many contributing community members. This was one of my favorite things about the Ester Republic. Being largely written by community members, it represents the people of the Fairbanks area well, and since it is published less frequently than the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, it has time to put real thought and consideration into its articles. In between print publications, articles are also posted on the newspaper’s website, and I will likely be writing some of these. For anyone who wants to check it out, here’s the address: http://esterrepublic.com/Republicwelcome.html

Along with getting to know more about my editors and the Ester Republic, I was also given my first assignment this week! I will be writing an article about  biking in Fairbanks. When I arrived in Fairbanks, I was really struck by how many bike paths the city has, and how many people cycle around them…especially since I have become one of these people myself! In Missoula, Montana, the bike capital of America, my friend and I both purchased nice mountain bikes. Mine is a beautiful dark gray Kona bike, well-suited for riding on the road as well as on mountain biking trails. Riding around Fairbanks, I have seen numerous bikers of all shapes and ages, alone, in pairs, or in larger groups. Once I ran into a family of eight bikers, who, as I overheard one of the young boys saying, had just had dinner at the Fairbanks Botanical Gardens. With so many bikers in one city, however, there are bound to be some conflicts between them and car traffic. My article will focus on the safety issues of biking in the city of Fairbanks. The main research questions I’m starting with are: 1) How many bike accidents occur in Fairbanks, and what are their main causes? 2) Where are the most/least safe places to bike in the area, and is there anything being done to improve the least safe places? and 3) Should Alaska bike laws be changed or more strictly enforced? I think for this article I will talk to several members of the Fairbanks Cycle Club, a Fairbanks-based personal injury lawyer, a police officer in the area, and if possible, the Chief of Staff of the Fairbanks North Star Borough and the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the Alaska state Department of Transportation. I am a little nervous for these interviews, since I don’t have a ton of experience and can also be shy and bad at “enunciating” (one of my mom’s favorite words). Hopefully I’ll be able to ask good enough questions that my interviewees will have a lot to say about them and I won’t have to do too much talking! Next week I will let you know how this goes.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you all are enjoying the summer as much as I am. 🙂

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