The end of an era

This was day two of our internship. It feels like it was so long ago!

Looking over my last entry, I kind of get the feeling that I was feeling a little overwhelmed and homesick. It seems that I just fell off the face of the earth, never to be heard from again.

You won’t get rid of me that easy.

When I returned to the District after Thanksgiving, I was feeling a little down and a lot homesick. The holidays really are the most wonderful time of the year to me and my family. Every weekend we go to a different Christmas display and spend too much money buying each other gifts, baking and cooking stupendous meals. I’ve just finished eating my big Christmas dinner with my family before I sat down to finally post this entry.

But I didn’t really crawl under a rock my last three weeks in the city. I spent a couple of days developing a few story ideas and then dug in, barely getting two of the three stories finished by the end of the internship. In my last few weeks I practiced a new writing technique, learned a few things I need to do to make my stories really pop and tried my hand at some more feature stories and video.

I finished a data mining story with just two days left to my internship, and it was picked up by the Scripps Howard News Service and just about every gossip website because I used the word “Hollywood” in my lede. A few days after I posted my story, the Washington Post released another installment in their series “Top Secret America” about data mining on the local level that gives a lot more information than my story did. I urge you to read the entire series.

My last story was a straight-up feature about a busker. Mark Francis Nickens was one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He has been playing on the streets of the District since the mid-1980s, but is quick to point out that he’s never been homeless. Mark did a lot to try to dispel some of the stereotypes of street musicians for me. He explained that while playing at various Metro stations around the city he is often treated as if he’s a homeless beggar, instead of someone who is working to entertain.

I just worry that after he read my story about him he’ll decide to burn an effigy of me, just like he says he did with an asian videographer who portrayed Mark in a way he didn’t appreciate. I guess I’ll find out if I see Mark post something on Facebook about having a cookout with a brunette Barbie!

One of the highlights of the internship: A whirlwind tour of New England in 48 hours.

Even though I was pretty homesick toward the end of my internship, I wouldn’t trade a single experience I had in the District. I got to meet so many interesting people and push myself farther than I thought I could go. Plus, I made some new friends and had a few adventures.

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Change of pace

And now for something completely different.

Typically on this blog, I talk about things I do and see, or things I want to do and see, not what I think or how I feel. When it comes to talking about how I feel or what I think about something or someone, or moments that shaped a part of my character, I freeze up.

I froze up earlier this evening when I was talking to one of my roommates about how this internship has changed my perspective on some things. She has decided to relocate to DC from the western U.S., and we were discussing what it’s like to be in a city where you know no one.

When I got to the part where I tried to vocalize how in the last couple of months I have changed from someone who valued having an exciting career above all else to someone who valued family and friends above all else, I mumbled out, “But, I don’t know.” I couldn’t articulate why I no longer want to relocate to DC.

After I filed my first open records request a few years ago, I thought I wanted to be a big-shot investigative reporter in the big city. I loved the thrill of uncovering something and I wanted to be able to expose some terrible scandal and be the cause of some kind of widespread change that improves everyone’s lives.

But after a couple of months in DC, observing people who have spurred change with their big-city reporting, I’ve realized that I would rather take a job with a small-town weekly if it means being able to have people I care about close to me and I wouldn’t have to miss things like birthday parties and anniversaries because I’m hundreds of miles away.

Besides. It’s about the journalism. Period. Why should it matter where I’m working as long as I’m seeking truth and reporting it?

Being away from everything and everyone I’ve ever known has showed me what’s important to me, and what I don’t want to give up. As difficult as it has been to stop being homesick long enough to work and then find ways to pass the time on weekends without reminding myself on Fridays that I would be hanging out with Bert and Ella (my best friend and her daughter) or that on Sunday afternoons I would be shopping with Mom and then trying to start a conversation with Dad as he’s watching football or baseball or NASCAR, I don’t regret a thing. I’m glad I’ve had the chance to be in this internship program and spend three months in an incredible city. I’ve made memories and friends I’ll keep with me for the rest of my life. But I miss being able to see the stars.

Maine!

Portland Head Light, most photographed lighthouse in Maine.

As lame as it sounds, I’ve always wanted to go to Maine. It’s not a metropolitan place, its more of a wilderness and that’s just the kind of thing that suits me. I’m happy with a little ocean, a little rocky beach, a few lighthouses and the chance to spot a moose – as long as I’m safely in a car or somewhere the moose can’t get me. Sunday morning around 8 a.m., I finally got to see Maine.

The only bad part of the trip is that we only had time to venture in to see one lighthouse, grab a lobster roll and start bookin’ it back to DC. We were in a race to get back before the Metro stopped running.

After getting some tips from the best welcome center worker ever, we plotted a trip to go up to see the most photographed lighthouse and then stop to walk along some cliffs and see another lighthouse on our way back out of the state. We were all so amazed — and frozen — at the first lighthouse that we spent too much time there and didn’t leave ourselves enough time to stop again on our way back to the District.


We did stop for lunch at Becky’s Diner, featured in publications from “Roadfood” to “Esquire.” My travelmates enjoyed the lobster and crab. I enjoyed my burger.

Becky’s Diner

In our original map, we were going to swing back through Vermont on our way back. But like we had to sacrifice cliff-walking, we also had to sacrifice adding the last New England state to my count. We just didn’t have an extra hour to spend seeing another state. But, this trip, like my Gypsy Trip over the summer, gave me a taste of some new areas I want to go back to. Sometime in 2011, I’m heading back up the East Coast. Next time, I’ll have more than two days to cover 700-plus miles up the coast. And I will get to see the Liberty Bell in Philly.

My travelmates:

Raymundo
Adam


Uncharted territory

Providence, R.I. Capitol. It took up half the state.

All the fist pumping really kind of messed things up for us going into Jersey. I kind of started ignoring Sh’niqua (the navigation system in my Android) and ended up missing the exit for the Jersey Turnpike. But, after a quick detour through Camden, we were back on our way.

Fun fact about Jersey Danielle dug up on Wikipedia: It’s the doughnut capital of the world. When someone says “America runs on Dunkin’,” what they actually mean is “Jersey runs on Dunkin’.” Of course we stopped at a Dunkin’ Donuts for an afternoon snack and quizzed an employee. She had no idea if Jersey was the doughnut capital of the world and seemed to think we were crazy for asking.
The second leg of our journey brought me to places I haven’t been before. New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were all new experiences for me. I tried not to let Jersey Shore influence my opinion of the state, but still, I think I’ll be OK if I don’t ever see it again.
Connecticut was nice when we passed through, but it was getting dark. We didn’t get to see much until we came back through Sunday afternoon. Hartford was a beautiful city.
It was dark by the time we got to Rhode Island, but the smell alone was enough to forgive the itty bitty place for not being big enough to really be called a state. The entire state – all two square miles of it – smelled of pine. It was a great, fresh scent. The only thing we really saw was the capitol in Providence. As capitols go, it was pretty impressive.
Our original plan was to stop over in Boston for dinner and take a little time to explore the city. But that plan didn’t allow for us not arriving to the home of the Sox until 11 p.m. We couldn’t find parking for less than $15 – one garage was charging $27 for the night – so we illegally parked in a handicapped spot next to the capitol, took a few pictures and headed to Salem, Mass.
Salem is about an hour from Boston and an hour from Manchester, N.H., where we had reservations to stay the night. The drive to Salem wasn’t bad, and the town was charming, even though we were all waiting for the Sanderson sisters to fly down the street at any moment. The drive between Salem and Manchester was a little more interesting. We’d been in the car for about 15 hours at this point, and I was tired. We couldn’t get to that hotel fast enough.

50 in 30

There are two kinds of perks with this internship: work and non-work. These are very technical titles, so pay close attention to the following descriptions.
Work perks are the kind of everyday perks one experiences as a reporter in Washington D.C. These are things like being able to go to the White House. Non-work perks are just about everything else. These include just living in DC and the general proximity to other eastern states.

I want to see all 50 states before I turn 30 on July 14, 2015. At the start of this internship I had about four years and 20 states to go. After the East Coast Extravaganza two weekends ago, the magic number is down to 13.

The first leg of our trip took though four states I had already seen before. We started in Virginia, where we picked up our rental car, passing through Maryland and Delaware to get to Philadelphia. I wasn’t particularly thrilled to go through Delaware again, but we passed through Wilmington and realized that there is a metropolitan area in the state after all. It turned out access to the Atlantic Ocean isn’t the only good thing about Delaware.
Pat’s Philly Cheesesteaks

Our first stop came in Philadelphia, where the four of us split between Pat’s and Gino’s to decide for ourselves who has the better Philly cheesesteak sandwich. My vote went to Geno’s because it had less fat on the meat. But the surprising thing was that as detesting as cheese whiz sounds, it was better than provolone. I wonder if Penn Station back home will whip me up a Philly wit’ whiz and wit’out onions? 

An interesting side note about one of the differences between the two cheesesteak restaurants, Geno’s still calls their fries “freedom fries.” Also, according to a friend of Ray’s (fellow intern/road warrior) who lives in Philly, they will not serve you if you order in Spanish. She tried it once and was denied service.

Better steaks, bigger political statements.

Danielle’s quest for postcards and mine for magnets led us to the first stock exchange in the country. The main floor had been converted into a tourist haven with miniatures of the liberty bell stuffed in about every corner. Sadly, these miniatures are as close as we got to the real Liberty Bell. With souvenirs in hand, we crossed the bridge, fist pumping our way into Jersey.

Road Trip: East Coast Extravaganza

Danielle and I are taking to the road again, this time with two more interns, Raymundo and Adam. As soon as the first train leaves Woodley Park, we’re headed up the East Coast to Maine.

Although this trip won’t have the epic proportions of the Gypsy Trip, it does have some notable statistics nonetheless. We’ll be covering about 1,500 miles in two days. Its about a 10 hour drive to Maine from the District, but with side trips we’ll be in transit about 12 hours each day. But my most favorite statistic: We’ll be covering 12 states in 48 hours. We’ll see Virginia, Maryland, Deleware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. I’ll be adding a whopping seven more states to my count! 
We’ve talked about making a video with stories written by each of us to put out on the wire. And we’ve discussed a mockumentary that would have nothing to do with the Foundation’s wire.
I’m not sure what we’ll end up with, but rest assured there will be antoher behind the scenes of the road trip after we’ve finished the video. We’ll also be Tweeting and updating Facebook along the way. (When/If we designate a hash tag, I’ll post it here and to Facebook. You can follow @CassieLynnStone or @DanielleAlberti to get the updates.

Little Victories

One of the things about this internship that can be frustrating is the amount of time we can spend on a story without any assurance that it will actually be picked up by someone. The easiest way to get a story picked up is to write it for one of the Scripps papers or someone else who requests it. My first story was picked up when I did the cost of living adjustment story for Trish Choate, the Washington correspondent for the Texas papers.

I know the other interns have been picked up in other Scripps papers or have been published on the Scripps Howard News Service (a national wire staffed by seasoned journalists, not just students.  We’ve recently established a relationship with El Paso, Inc., a weekly in Texas, where the mother of one of the interns this semester is editor.
So after I spent a week harassing sources and gathering information about a dicennial process I really didn’t know much about, putting a story out on the wire without knowing if it would get picked up or not wasn’t incredibly satisfying. 
The funny thing was, almost two weeks later, my editor told me El Paso, Inc. picked up my redistricting story. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen the story online or gotten the paper clip yet.) El Paso, Inc. However, El Paso, Inc. wasn’t the only place that story was picked up.
USA Today, India Times and even Road Runner’s news aggregate linked to my story. Now, if people would just start linking to the Wire instead of Kansas City Infozine.


Blogger’s Note 11/15/2010: I got the clip from El Paso, Inc. today with my redistricting story in it. Score! 

Blood, Sweat and Tears

I hope you’ve been to SHFWire.com by now and read the election stories Elvia and I wrote today. (In case you didn’t I linked to them on our names and the wire’s website is no longer password protected. Score!) And I’m sure you’re aware of the election outcome, so I’m not going to rehash any of that. What I do want to talk about is what it was like covering my first major election.
I’ve covered Student Government elections before, but sitting around with a fellow newspaper watching the Student Government people sit around waiting for election results is nothing like this.
In my previous entry, I explained how Elvia and I really wanted to cover something for the election, even if we knew no one was going to pick up our story. It was as much about the reporting experience and being part of something historic.
Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, speaking at the Republican watch party Tuesday night.
As soon as I walked into the Grand Hyatt I knew I had stepped into a whole new world. I wish I had a wide-angle shot to show you how the room was set up, but I was trying not to look like a newbie. In the center of the room, a roped-off cluster of risers held TV cameras from the likes of CNN. In front of the risers, photographers and reporters fought for outlets to power their laptops. Chairs holding laptops were haphazardly scattered around but concentrated more around the few sources of power left after the cameras were powered. The cluster of cameras linked to a strip along the left wall.
Reporters were restricted to this roped-off area, keeping us from ruining the night by pestering guests with questions, unless they wandered too close to the press pen. It was funny though, because they seemed impressed by the press contained in the center of the room. I am in pictures in at least eight people’s iPhones. It was so temping to make funny faces as they took their pictures, but I remained professional and just pretended to be busy doing something. I was actually watching the Kentucky elections via Twitter.
Some of the very excited crowd at the Republican watch party.
Once the festivities started, the press handler, a frazzled young woman in charge of making sure her kids stayed in their pen, escorted photographers between a roped-off area around the speakers platform and then back to the reporter’s area. Finally, once the guests got too thick for her to keep track of everyone between locations, we had to choose to stay by the stage or in the pen.
If I had to describe the evening in one word, I’d say loud. Every time Republicans picked up another state, everyone cheered and clapped. Whenever anyone spoke, everyone cheered and clapped. I’m sure the overpriced alcohol played no role in anyone’s enthusiasm.
Sometimes reporters would try to venture out of their pen to talk to people. Invariably, our baby sitter would escort them back behind the rope.
President Obama speaking at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
But after the announcement came out that the Republicans regained control of the House and Boehner finally came out to address the crowd, the work still wasn’t finished.
Today, the president gave an address about the elections at the White House. I got to take my second trip there. This time, I got right into the White House and made it through security so easily I almost looked like I knew what I was doing.  Then, the fun began.
This time, when the president entered, I didn’t have the same, “Oh. My. God.” moment. Instead, I joined the chorus of shutters going all around the room. I took a decent number of pictures, and got a little video. And if you check the video on C-SPAN, you can see me off in the distance.

Capitol Hill

I went for another walk last Sunday, this time around Capitol Hill. Here’s a few pictures of some of the statues around the Capitol building.

It’s the Journey

A row of embassies.

I love the weekends. Don’t misunderstand me, I love my internship too. But I love being able to get into some jeans and my comfy shoes, grab a camera and just get lost in the city for a while. The weather has been perfect every weekend I’ve been out here, so I’ve been doing outside exploring before it gets too cold to enjoy things.

Last weekend, I decided to just go for a walk. I’m still too uptight of a person to just wander around without some kind of a guide, so I knew I wanted to end up in Georgetown and I knew the navigation in my phone would get me there. So with Google maps as my guide, I began the two mile walk from my apartment to Georgetown.

Latvian’s perception of American culture

I always have to remind myself that in life its not about the destination, but the journey. To get from Woodley Park to Georgetown, I passed by several countries’ embassies. Maybe I’ve watched too many movies, but when I think of embassies, I think of lots of important people walking around in cocktail party attire. These embassies looked mostly abandoned. Most were closed and looked like no one had been there in quite some time. The Latvian embassy had a photography exhibit open to the public, so I decided to go in.

The only reason I’ve ever heard of Latvia is because I worked with a woman named Lidija (Lydia) when I was a teenager. I was fascinated with World War II at the time, and she was a young child while Latvia was occupied by Germany. She told me stories about how her mother would hide Lidija and her sister under her skirts when they would go out into public to protect them. Lidija and her family emigrated to the United States when she was still very young, but she always seemed to remember Latvia fondly.

American perceptions of Latvian culture

Two older Latvian women oversaw the exhibit while I was there, one of them walking me through the exhibit and explaining the inspiration behind some of the photos. Groups of exchange students from the Latvian Culture College and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire took photos of their impressions of each other’s cultures.

Nature dominated UW’s photos because Latvians are very close to nature, one of the curators said. The Latvian students’ photos were dominated by pop culture references such as Coca-Cola, Michael Jackson and Bonnie and Clyde. It was an interesting interpretation of American culture.

One of the cute residential streets on the way to Georgetown.

The rest of my walk to Georgetown was mostly through residential neighborhoods. I made it to Sephora — the place I REALLY wanted to go and Barnes and Noble where I bought “Blue Highways,” a book written by a man who toured the U.S. by avoiding major interstates. I still haven’t started reading the book, but I’m looking forward to comparing his journey to the Gypsy Trip I took over the summer.