Station Stories

A Dot on the Map: The Stories that Bind Towns and People

Monument, Oregon

Monument, Oregon John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB

A dot on the map. Barely. The town of Monument, population 128, is barely a dot on the map of eastern Oregon, four hours from Bend, and 60 miles to the closest doctor.

Being no more than a dot on the map is precisely what brought Oregon Public Broadcasting's daily conversation program Think Out Loud to Monument, Oregon, earlier this year as one of the stops in the year-long series, "Our Town."

This ambitious project takes a hyper-local look at individual communities across Oregon and southwest Washington, spending a week exploring what each town is all about and discovering stories that connect that town to the rest of the state. At the end of the week, everyone in the community is invited to a town hall. The town hall is then broadcast on OPB during the following day's show.

Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, executive producer of OPB's Think Out Loud i i

Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, executive producer of OPB's Think Out Loud John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB
Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, executive producer of OPB's Think Out Loud

Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, executive producer of OPB's Think Out Loud

John Rosman/OPB

Sarah Jane Rothenfluch, Think Out Loud's executive producer, explains how this series is different from other reporting they do on the program: "Instead of going because news is breaking, we actually go to these towns because it's a spot on the map."

A little more than halfway through the project, there are already nine dots on the "Our Town" series map.

The first stop, just across the river from Portland, was the Vancouver-area city of Camus, Washington, a community trying to find the balance between rural and urban, growth and history.

Then it was over to the Oregon coastal town of Astoria, the state's oldest town, if not the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies.

Following Astoria, the show headed east over to Monument, then to Warm Springs, a town on an Indian reservation home to three tribes. Next to Woodburn, a town that epitomizes the stories of immigration and growth.

When the show visited the southern Oregon town of Lakeview they found a town supported by natural resources – from timber to geothermal energy. The story of the community of Roseburg is also closely tied to the success of the timber industry, as well as growth of newer industries like wine.

In Bend, the show found a city hit by the recession yet still focused on growth opportunities. The most recent city they visited, Ontario, has a diverse population and a large community spirit. And happens to produce 40% of the country's onions.

"Picking a town is only a little more sophisticated than throwing darts at a map"

Besides regional location, there is little that connects these dots on the "Our Town" map. Some cities are small and getting smaller, some are large and getting larger. Some are urban and some are very, very rural. Despite that diversity, Rothenfluch and the Think Out Loud staff really take the time to figure out how each town is more like the others than you might think.

"We go to towns and explore what that town is about," Rothenfluch says. "We want them to know that we care about the town. These are stories we don't always talk about. And we are looking for stories that relate to the state as a whole."

David Blanchard, working on the production of the Warm Springs town hall broadcast. i i

David Blanchard, working on the production of the Warm Springs town hall broadcast. John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB
David Blanchard, working on the production of the Warm Springs town hall broadcast.

David Blanchard, working on the production of the Warm Springs town hall broadcast.

John Rosman/OPB

The stories are the key to the success of this project for David Blanchard, one of the program's radio producers, who worked on the Lakeview and Warm Springs shows.

"Picking a town is only a little more sophisticated than throwing darts at a map," Blanchard says. "But everywhere we've gone we've found compelling stories. There is always something to talk about."

Creating a new way to find stories in unexpected places has helped this program stand out says Blanchard.

"In our daily reporting, we have naturally gravitate towards for things that are happening in bigger places," he says. "[But in the "Our Town" series] we always find really fascinating things. Each has its own dynamic and narrative. The listeners hear that too, and are fascinated."

Christopher Hamsher, of Ontario, Oregon, lost his job recently. "I went ahead and opened my big mouth," says Hamsher. After overhearing a colleague speak ill of him Hamsher confronted him and was reported by a co-worker. He says because of the store's zero tolerance harassment policy, he was let go immediately. Now Hamsher is collecting social security and working for meals at a local bar. i i

Christopher Hamsher, of Ontario, Oregon, lost his job recently. "I went ahead and opened my big mouth," says Hamsher. After overhearing a colleague speak ill of him Hamsher confronted him and was reported by a co-worker. He says because of the store's zero tolerance harassment policy, he was let go immediately. Now Hamsher is collecting social security and working for meals at a local bar. John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB
Christopher Hamsher, of Ontario, Oregon, lost his job recently. "I went ahead and opened my big mouth," says Hamsher. After overhearing a colleague speak ill of him Hamsher confronted him and was reported by a co-worker. He says because of the store's zero tolerance harassment policy, he was let go immediately. Now Hamsher is collecting social security and working for meals at a local bar.

Christopher Hamsher, of Ontario, Oregon, lost his job recently. "I went ahead and opened my big mouth," says Hamsher. After overhearing a colleague speak ill of him Hamsher confronted him and was reported by a co-worker. He says because of the store's zero tolerance harassment policy, he was let go immediately. Now Hamsher is collecting social security and working for meals at a local bar.

John Rosman/OPB

For much of the week that Blanchard (or another of the show's producers) is in the town, he is looking for stories to tell. He looks for interesting issues that are being discussed in the local cafes, restaurants and coffee spots. "We want to be talking about what the people are talking about," he says.

After a few days of going door to door and restaurant to restaurant interviewing community leaders and residents to really get into the heart of the stories and issues, Think Out Loud is ready to present these stories to a state-wide audience.

In a live show, town representatives, community leaders and an audience made up of residents meet to talk about these important issues.

"We take a piece of news and what it means for the state and get it down to what it means to the people on an individual level. And then facilitate a discussion," he says.

Building An Interactive Map

If all of this were the extent of the "Our Town" series it would be a complete radio program. And it is. But that's not the end. Meet the Think Out Loud multimedia producer, John Rosman. It's Rosman's job to put a face to these stories and a visual to even the most remote dot on the "Our Town" map.

John Rosman i i

John Rosman OPB hide caption

itoggle caption OPB
John Rosman

John Rosman

OPB

Like Blanchard, Rosman spends the week in the town looking for people and stories. It's Rosman's role to make sure these precious stories have the life they deserve even beyond the radio show.

Through a website, Tumblr page, and Google map, Rosman collects those stories and the photos he takes.

"The series is about connecting the state and region," he says. "We are trying to know what's going on, and the people are the experts. We are building an interactive Oregon map."

"We Understand Them That Much More"

Spending quality time in these towns, instead of parachute journalism, is the key to the "Our Town" series and has given the team an advantage on other reporting projects. In May, when news of a fire at Woodburn High School spread through the OPB newsroom, the Think Out Loud team was equipped to cover the story because they had featured the town just a month before.

  • Watching his father Woodburn's Fiopent Boru gut two large Idaho trout, Samuel Boru talks about all the different ways they will be using the fish meat. "We dry it out for jerky, use it for a shake and bake (replacing the traditional chicken with trout), we can even use the head for soup."
    Hide caption
    Watching his father Woodburn's Fiopent Boru gut two large Idaho trout, Samuel Boru talks about all the different ways they will be using the fish meat. "We dry it out for jerky, use it for a shake and bake (replacing the traditional chicken with trout), we can even use the head for soup."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Russian Orthodox Church in Woodburn, Oregon.
    Hide caption
    Russian Orthodox Church in Woodburn, Oregon.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • As Chairman of the Senior Center, Bob Blakesley is delivering the center's weekly meal to a woman who can't leave her house. When asked if he thinks Monument will change in the coming years, he replies, "I hope not; it's awfully nice the way it is."
    Hide caption
    As Chairman of the Senior Center, Bob Blakesley is delivering the center's weekly meal to a woman who can't leave her house. When asked if he thinks Monument will change in the coming years, he replies, "I hope not; it's awfully nice the way it is."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Overlooking the town of Monument, Oregon at night.
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    Overlooking the town of Monument, Oregon at night.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Ed Senchyna has worked for the city of Camas, Washington, for 24 years, and at the cemetery for five. He is the recipient of the Green Giant Award, given to him for bike commuting from Vancouver for more than two decades. He loves working in the cemetery. "It's quiet, beautiful, and I get to be outside all day," he says. "It's a great job."
    Hide caption
    Ed Senchyna has worked for the city of Camas, Washington, for 24 years, and at the cemetery for five. He is the recipient of the Green Giant Award, given to him for bike commuting from Vancouver for more than two decades. He loves working in the cemetery. "It's quiet, beautiful, and I get to be outside all day," he says. "It's a great job."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Camas, Washington: The community of Grass Valley, at night.
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    Camas, Washington: The community of Grass Valley, at night.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Native Astorian, Cindy McEwen has worked at Lower Columbia Bowl for 18-years. "(The bowling alley) is not like it used to be. Friday and Saturday nights, it used to be packed, all the lanes, everything." However, come summer the lanes get busy again. Tourists and Goonies seekers visit a widow seen with the character Chunk in the opening credits of the film.
    Hide caption
    Native Astorian, Cindy McEwen has worked at Lower Columbia Bowl for 18-years. "(The bowling alley) is not like it used to be. Friday and Saturday nights, it used to be packed, all the lanes, everything." However, come summer the lanes get busy again. Tourists and Goonies seekers visit a widow seen with the character Chunk in the opening credits of the film.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • A view of the river in Astoria, Oregon.
    Hide caption
    A view of the river in Astoria, Oregon.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Warm Springs, William Naypier wants his daughter Helen, "to go to college and graduate high school, do things I didn't do." Naypier works part time at Mount Hood Summit Ski Area, handing out inner tubes, and is supporting five daughters. Naypier states having children has stopped him from "acting like a gangster, running around and getting wild."
    Hide caption
    Warm Springs, William Naypier wants his daughter Helen, "to go to college and graduate high school, do things I didn't do." Naypier works part time at Mount Hood Summit Ski Area, handing out inner tubes, and is supporting five daughters. Naypier states having children has stopped him from "acting like a gangster, running around and getting wild."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • A West Hill home in the town of Warm Springs, Oregon.
    Hide caption
    A West Hill home in the town of Warm Springs, Oregon.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • In 2004, Triston Dooley, of Lakeview, took a turn too tight and too fast on his 3-wheeler and broke his back. Being paralyzed in a town where one of the only things to do is outdoor activities was hard for Dooley. However, a year later, Dooley was back on his 3-wheeler. "It took three people to strap me in, and I rode a lot slower," Dooley remembered. "It was the best thing I ever did."
    Hide caption
    In 2004, Triston Dooley, of Lakeview, took a turn too tight and too fast on his 3-wheeler and broke his back. Being paralyzed in a town where one of the only things to do is outdoor activities was hard for Dooley. However, a year later, Dooley was back on his 3-wheeler. "It took three people to strap me in, and I rode a lot slower," Dooley remembered. "It was the best thing I ever did."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • A barn in Lakeview, Oregon.
    Hide caption
    A barn in Lakeview, Oregon.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • After 20 years of work, Georgene Wright, of Bend, was laid off. "It was real tough," admits Wright. But, she found work with her son Cary's construction company. The two have grown almost inseparable over the years. In 2001, a car accident injured Cary and killed his older brother. Now Cary says, "We do everything together. A lot of people wouldn't be able to say that."
    Hide caption
    After 20 years of work, Georgene Wright, of Bend, was laid off. "It was real tough," admits Wright. But, she found work with her son Cary's construction company. The two have grown almost inseparable over the years. In 2001, a car accident injured Cary and killed his older brother. Now Cary says, "We do everything together. A lot of people wouldn't be able to say that."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Bend, Oregon.
    Hide caption
    Bend, Oregon.
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Gary McFarlane is in charge of technology for the Roseburg School District. With the budget cuts, McFarlane says students are using computers that are 8 years old. "You need to prepare kids for the future, but the most important aspect of a child's education is the teacher. Most kids won't remember the computer they used in the school, but they will remember the teacher they liked."
    Hide caption
    Gary McFarlane is in charge of technology for the Roseburg School District. With the budget cuts, McFarlane says students are using computers that are 8 years old. "You need to prepare kids for the future, but the most important aspect of a child's education is the teacher. Most kids won't remember the computer they used in the school, but they will remember the teacher they liked."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Roseburg, Oregon
    Hide caption
    Roseburg, Oregon
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Ontario resident Hank Grossman breeds and raises horses on his plot of land. Pictured with Hank is Wyatt, a week-old stallion. For the next two or three years, Hank will continue to raise Wyatt. But when he matures, Grossman will either sell him or keep him to breed. When asked what draws him to these animals, he said, "I don't know. I like their style. I get along with them."
    Hide caption
    Ontario resident Hank Grossman breeds and raises horses on his plot of land. Pictured with Hank is Wyatt, a week-old stallion. For the next two or three years, Hank will continue to raise Wyatt. But when he matures, Grossman will either sell him or keep him to breed. When asked what draws him to these animals, he said, "I don't know. I like their style. I get along with them."
    John Rosman/OPB
  • Ontario, Oregon
    Hide caption
    Ontario, Oregon
    John Rosman/OPB

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"We make a bunch of contacts in the towns we visit. We were able to go through our contacts from the [Woodburn] show to get to the right people to know who to call for an interview," says Rosman.

Those contacts help them produce better reporting, Rothenfluch adds.

"This series has helped us to understand, in a much better way, different places in our area," she says. "We can picture the people who live there. We know what the town is like."

Delving deeper into these communities helps these journalists put context into all their other reporting.

"Whenever I see stories about Warm Springs and Lakeview, we know the importance of these stories that can just fall into the stream of other stories," says Blanchard. "We know the urgency that the town is feeling. We've been there and seen and talked to the people. We are personalizing these stories. We care so much more and have an appreciation of other towns in similar straits. We understand them that much more."

Like any good story, the cities that stand out are the ones that are personal and meaningful.

Barry Fitzgerald was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. "It went bad in two years," he says. He eventually had to stop working as a mechanical engineer, a job he loved. But in time, he has found a new way of looking at the world. "You know the saying, the glass is half-full? I used to be a person who saw the glass as empty and broke, now I see it as half-empty," laughs Fitzgerald.

Barry Fitzgerald was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2004. "It went bad in two years," he says. He eventually had to stop working as a mechanical engineer, a job he loved. But in time, he has found a new way of looking at the world. "You know the saying, the glass is half-full? I used to be a person who saw the glass as empty and broke, now I see it as half-empty," laughs Fitzgerald. John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB

"I talked to one guy in Woodburn who is battling MS," says Rosman. "A couple of years ago he had a job, and was walking. Then he was just hit with MS. He turned from pessimist to optimist. It seemed counter intuitive to me, but he turned something negative into positive. It really touched me to talk to him. And put my own life in perspective."

Blanchard had a similar experience when he went to Lakeview.

"We were very warmly received in the midst of their really difficult situation; they are just trying to make an economy based on timber that has completely dried up," he says. "There was just a strength in the way that they spoke about it. No defeatism or a really negative strain. It was a cheerful show about serious issues. They are really strong and positive. When you hear stories about the death of small town America, it sounds so bleak and desperate. But those aren't the adjectives I'd walk away with. The spirit and the strength that are in these towns. They know there is a way out, because of their ingenuity and dedication."

It's safe to say that the "Our Town" series has impacted Blanchard, Rosman, Rothenfluch and the rest of OPB's Think Out Loud staff. But, of course, they aren't in this for themselves. It's about their listeners.

Near Warm Springs, Oregon i i

Near Warm Springs, Oregon John Rosman/OPB hide caption

itoggle caption John Rosman/OPB
Near Warm Springs, Oregon

Near Warm Springs, Oregon

John Rosman/OPB

"As we go through the year, you'll see dots on a map," says Rothenfluch. "My hope that it becomes a resource; to answer the question, what does that town really look like? This could come to be a resource, to see the people and the reality of a place."

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