Introducing Kyle: Reflecting on a Month at the CENTER

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When I set out on my senior project, I had big plans. My long-term vision is to try to do some freelance journalism abroad next year, and I want to start that work by building up a skill set and portfolio of work while I’m here in Portland. I wanted to start this work through my senior project at the CENTER writing for I Love This Place PDX, so I chose three Portland-specific topics to explore: environmental justice, policing, and housing. I also set out to write a reflection on the recent primary election, and an internal review of the CENTER.

With these goals set, I started my work trying to gather some background information for each of the topics. For the Portland-wide ones (including the election), that involved lots of Googling. The idea behind just setting out on an internet-based exploration at first is that I would get an overview, a sense of which specific events or things I would need to ask questions about in my interviews, and, most importantly, who I was going to seek out for interviews. At the same time, I was participating in activities with the CENTER, by going to youth collective and coalition meetings, and I was connecting with coalition representatives in order to pursue the internal review. While still maintaining much of my initial confidence about the taks laid out in front of me, the breadth of this endeavor proved to be daunting.

I found it challenging to balance all of these different topics, even though that is something I was trained to do in school. I also found it challenging to be doing so much of the initial research sitting at my computer because I love journalism for the way it allows me to connect with people. This was a frustrating contradiction for me: on one hand I was super stoked to finally have the freedom to learn and write about whatever I am interested in, but, on the other hand, I was becoming more and more frustrated with what that work actually looked like. The moral of the story of these initial stages is that I need to Google less and talk to people more.

I found one valuable way to do this on the policing front through the Community Peace Collaborative (see this piece I wrote), but the area I was able to connect with people most was environment justice. I had opportunity to speak with folks from Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC), the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability Climate Action Plan team, and the Portland Clean Energy Fund. Among my chosen topics, I honed in on environmental justice because it feels important to my experience here in Portland right now. I generally think of Portland as an environmentally friendly city, and I like to think I am environmentally conscious myself. However, I had no idea that environmental justice is so distinct from traditional environmentalism.

For the purposes of this post, traditional environmentalism is undertaken by those who believe in climate change and want to change their actions in order to mitigate it affects, but don’t consider disadvantaged people who are at the center of the impact of climate change. This could look like driving less to work, recycling, using renewable energy in your home, etc. Environmental justice is this same sense of environmentalism, but the people who are impacted most by climate change are at the forefront of concern. An example of this is the work that PHCC does to help those who are displaced by pollution in the Willamette River. Another example is the Portland Clean Energy Fund, a proposed ballot measure that would place a surcharge on billion dollar retail corporations in Portland in order to fund environmental initiatives in our city that would benefit those who did not reap the rewards of the older system. This alternative look at environmentalism has become crucially important to me as I adapt the ways that I act on my beliefs about climate change.

I mention my environmental justice interviews in this reflective piece because I think they showcase what I hope to achieve as a journalist. I want to be able to connect with people in the community that have a stake in whatever the given issue I am researching is and reflect their story in my work. Having the background knowledge is important, but talking to people is even more so. If had more time with this project, I would have liked to set up and conduct more interviews, so that I could present my findings as a whole story, not just the bits and pieces that I have learned thus far.  

Looking back over the past four weeks, I am definitely disappointed in the amount that I have accomplished. I did a solid four weeks worth of work, but I set out to do far more than that. The lesson I am learning from this frustration is that I need to set smaller, more achievable goals for myself while still maintaining my ambition. I also need to be open to not fulfilling my goals in exactly the way I set them out for myself because every piece of work is bound to transform over time. If I do my best to connect with as many people as possible and put myself into my work as much as I can, than the stories I produce are bound to reflect my passion and I will have made progress as a journalist.