COLUMN: Interns brought talent, energy to Vale

Carolyn Agrimis and Max Egener, summer reporters at the Malheur Enterprise. (The Enteprise/Les Zaitz)

The newsroom at the Malheur Enterprise is a little quieter this week.

We’re missing our two summer reporters, Carolyn Agrimis and Max Egener. Last Friday was their final day on duty, the end of their paid internships in Vale.

We hope you’ll miss them too.

Through the summer, Carolyn and Max built on what they learned studying journalism at the University of Oregon. They are both amazed at how fast the summer went. No doubt.

While learning journalism skills, they provided us extra muscle to bring you important stories. They were treated as equals and expected to perform as equals. They didn’t fail us or you on that count.

They took their duty seriously to the Enterprise and to the community. Carolyn and Max were diligent in plugging into the standards at the Enterprise – accuracy, fairness and unrelenting pursuit of the truth.

That has been particularly true as they helped report on the spokes of the marijuana debate embroiling the community now. They pitched in to help with tough reporting on the flare up over the donation of marijuana money to Ontario’s splash park. They learned how to ask difficult questions and do so with respect but with an insistence for the truth.

In a note to supporters of our internship program, Max touched on that work.

“With recreational marijuana on everyone’s mind, I had the opportunity to do watchdog journalism,” Max wrote. “I used public records, crafted carefully-worded emails, and conducted tough interviews with city officials. I will use those skills and continue to build on them in my next endeavor.”

Carolyn finished out her days learning about Steven Meland, the marijuana entrepreneur behind Hotbox Farms. She called people who didn’t want to talk about him. She dug into court records and property deeds. She reached out to Meland – who said he had no time to answer questions. You’ll see the results of her digging soon.

She also took on one of the most sensitive issues in Malheur County – the care of our children.

“It was interesting to be able to dig into the topic of child poverty and some of the leading causes in Malheur County. I spoke with individuals around the county who care deeply about improving life for kids in a variety of ways,” Carolyn wrote in her own note to our intern supporters.

This is our second year of having interns. Not many community newspapers afford this opportunity, but I think it’s vital to the future of journalism. Training in ethics is as important as training in interviewing skills, and our interns get a good dose of both. We can do this because people here and literally across the country donated to support internships. 

Max was one of the prestigious Snowden interns from the UO, and our donors matched that university stipend to bring him to Vale. Carolyn was our first Edward Engelberg Intern for Investigative Reporting, funded in large part by Engelberg’s son, Stephen, a colleague of mine who is editor-in-chief of ProPublica, a national investigative reporting organization. We had local donors from Malheur County, believers in quality journalism from Portland, and others who contributed $50, $100 and even $500 to bring young talent to Vale. All of us at the Malheur Enterprise deeply appreciate that support, and I hope the community recognizes what an asset that is for Malheur County. If you want to be on the rolls to help next year, let me know.

Part of what Carolyn and Max shared about being at the Enterprise is the esprit de corps they encountered in our shop. They found our staff welcoming and helpful.

“Each person has taught me so much,” Carolyn wrote.

Now, Carolyn returns to home in Portland, considering job prospects in Washington, D.C., and indeed overseas, where she can put her Arabic language skills to work. Max gets a slight break before starting work as the city reporter at the daily newspaper in Roseburg, the News-Review.

They helped with our ambition to give the community high quality journalism and stories done with care. Max put his finger on one key lesson from the summer.

“With the right people and the will to do impactful work, a small weekly newspaper in a rural county can help drive journalism in this ever-changing media landscape,” he wrote.

Max and Carolyn and the interns that will follow them to Vale help make it so.

Les Zaitz is publisher of the Enterprise, [email protected].