Category Archives: Stories

5 cool things about being on FLUX Magazine staff

By Josie Fey

Photography
As writers we try to create a picture with words, but this was the first time I’d had a photographer working with me to make the story really come alive. (Shout out to KJ!) It’s cool to see these professionally produced pictures alongside your story. And it made me more conscious as I wrote other pieces about how images can enhance what you’re trying to say.

You’ll become a better writer
Your story is going to go through a few iterations. It might sting a little to revise, but I’ve had to challenge myself to accept criticism in the quest for a more effective narrative. I had the opportunity to step in as a copyeditor for other stories during the later phase of the editorial process. Reviewing work my peers had also been laboring over was illuminating as well: seeing clever turns of phrase or catching small details. It’s all combined to be a learning experience and I’m grateful for that.

Friends
I’m a graduate student, and a few (several) years older than other Flux staff members. So when I was first assigned to a writing and photography team I was a little nervous that they’d think I was a boring old lady. This was not the case. I had the good fortune to be teamed up with a couple really fun and smart people who never judged me for being born in the 80s. We’ve collaborated on stories and eaten tacos and sang karaoke together. They even told me I looked a few years younger than I am. So basically they are my favorite forever.

There are stakes
I have experience in the corporate world, where things seem pretty serious. The people I’ve worked with at Flux have been some of the most professional I’ve ever encountered. Our editor, Emily, has kept us on track. Our faculty advisor, Todd, has been there for guidance. And every single person on staff has put an honest effort into what they’re doing and taken suggestions for improvement in stride. I’m consistently impressed at how productive we’ve been and how much we’ve accomplished in such a short time. And it hasn’t required even one awkward conference call.

Pizza parties
This doesn’t really need any further explanation but everybody (I) loves (love) free pizza.

The power of youth

By Leanne Harloff

As a relatively young journalist, I learn something new about reporting and writing every day. No that’s not an exaggeration; be it during classes, an interview or a casual conversation with a friend in the field, I am always digesting new information about my future profession.

Each of these sources gives me unique, thought-provoking ideas to consider, but in general they all have one thing in common: they are adults. Each is older than I am with more experience either in the field or in the world generally.

I cherish this passed-along wisdom, but it wasn’t until working for Flux on a piece about 21 young Americans suing the U.S. government that I realized just how much we can learn from young people as well. Youth are incredible.

I faced this fact when I interviewed teens Miko and Isaac Vergun. They are high schoolers, struggling to meet deadlines and keep up with cultural events like the Superbowl, but they are also dialed in to the problems their generation faces. They are not blind to the important events happening around them, and they are definitely not going to sit by and let older people negatively affect their future. Their voices may be young, but they are not uninformed.

Of course, they are not alone in their fight. Their parents have helped guide them to a life of fighting to preserve the planet, but along the way the torch was passed to them.

Kelsey Juliana was the same way. Her parents instilled in her a zest for life that she has developed and used to help others. Her earnestness about her struggles and successes inspired me to tell her story. Talks with her are informative and full of empathy for humanity. She always made me want to listen.

These youth have made climate activism a defining part of their lives and their knowledge on the subject proves that. They each made the conscious decision to take a stand at a time in their lives when many of them are not even old enough to vote.

I realized in interviewing them that I wasn’t just searching for high quality quotes for my writing – I was learning, and youth were the ones teaching me for a change. They know more about the subject I wrote on than I ever will. But that’s part of what journalism is: listening and learning from those who know more than us, no matter their age.

Youth does not mean ignorance. This applies to the incredible sources in my story and it applies to Flux as a whole. We are students, we are young, but we know how to make our voices heard in an incredibly sophisticated way.

Working on these in depth stories has been difficult and time-consuming. It has led to frustration and elation all in the same day. But learning from my sources and from my fellow FLUXers has made every moment worth it. I am beyond excited for the day that I will hold a glossy copy of this year’s magazine in my hands.

I am still learning each day about how to develop my writing skills, but the intelligent young people who I talked to for my piece reminded me that, as the cliché says, age is just a number.

Growing together

By Matt Gatie

Flux is a capstone publication. It is honestly an honor to be placed among the ranks of some of the smartest, most articulate people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, let alone work with.

This year we took on the most pertinent theme we could, democracy. We pushed ourselves to represent a something so innately tied to our profession that often one cannot exist without the other. It was a huge undertaking but in this political climate I don’t think we could have chosen anything else.

As aspiring journalists we sometimes have grandiose ideas of changing the world. We imagine we fight the good fight for truth, for fairness, for a better society spurred by our prose. We hope to make an impact on the world playing our part in democracy.

Sometimes I don’t know if I subscribe to this. I feel indulgent. Have I created a phantom creed that idolizes the end goals without thinking about the in-between, the ethical choices, and the voices of the people we hope to inform. We certainly don’t have the trust of those same people. Has the perception of journalism changed because of our ambition? Maybe I am just young and idealistic in my pursuit.

I don’t know the answer. I won’t pretend to be able to understand the feelings of the electorate, or a pollster’s data on people’s trust in journalism. But I’m learning what it means to have ambition undercut by self-doubt and cynicism. Through Flux I’ve experienced sources letting me down. Community members have looked in disgust as I expressed to them my hopes for a career. I’ve sat with an empty in-box for days paralyzed with disappointment.

It’s difficult, but these experiences have made me realize I am finally beginning to pay my dues and gain the skills that will take me to that idealistic place. The very act of being ambitious and pushing myself to be part of a team I feel utterly unqualified for, has pushed me to be ok with the grandiose ideas of changing the world. As Todd would say, I’ve got to put in some reps, and then just maybe these grandiose ideas will no longer be ideas but reality. I am confident that the other FLUXers will get there, and maybe I will too.

Reporting on Occupy Medical

By Duncan Moore

Reporting on Occupy Medical was one of the most rewarding stories I’ve covered to date, yet also the most challenging. It was a difficult place to work, building up trust was a major component of the process and I found myself going for hours at a time without being able to take a single picture. Considering the clinic was only a block from my house, I was taken aback by the diversity of people who sought treatment there. I talked to former convicts, drug addicts, patients who had gone off their meds, and ordinary people who were just down on their luck. While it made for a depressing scene at times, the determination of the volunteers and the gratitude of the patients always won out in the end.

A chance to be inspired

By Kenzie White

One of the greatest gifts that FLUX has given me was the opportunity to meet the subject of my story – a young man named Mohammad.  He provided incredible insight into what life is like as an international student for my piece; however, he had so much more to tell. His story was so fascinating and complex, but not everything could fit in FLUX.

Mohammad is from a small town in Saudi Arabia. Even though I just met him and he’s from thousands of miles away, I felt like I’d known him forever. He has the widest grin and the goofiest sense of humor.

Although he has a youthful and happy demeanor, he’s faced deep struggles throughout his lifetime. His hometown was the very first city to be attacked by ISIS. He told me that the mosque where the terrorist group shot into the crowds still bears the bullet holes and the faces of the victims hang upon the walls, to serve as a reminder for citizens as they walk by.

Having experienced this trauma has altered the way Mohammad lives his life—but not in the way you’d expect. He is stubbornly optimistic, and infectiously so.

Despite the hurt his hometown has suffered, the uncertainty he faces as an international student, and a painful back injury, Mohammad continues to smile and radiate genuine positivity.  So thank you, FLUX, for giving me the chance to meet such an inspiring human being.

A peek into Art As Action

By Caitlin Howard

From the outside the warehouse is a non-descript unit in a suburban complex west of Eugene. The door opens into a triangular room with walls painted a clumsy punk turquoise. A woman named Etain is getting her makeup done while another chats with her. The main–larger and mostly empty–room is dimly lit. A smoke detector makes it hard to see. On the far side is a garage door that a semi-truck could fit through; it doesn’t even take up a third of the wall.

Tracy Sydor is at the camera with her husband, Rob Sydor. One of their children is asleep on a divan in the corner, the other is waving around an enormous American flag that is attached–upside down–to a long wooden pole. Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album is playing, including the expletive lyrics to the band’s lead single Killing in the Name: “F*ck you, I won’t do what you tell me,” which Sydor had posted on her facebook page earlier that day with a teaser photo of the set.

“This is a political piece,” Sydor calls it. “And very dark.”

The set includes a backdrop of six or sevens boards painted a dark, eggplant brown. In front of them is a tall mattress covered in silky blue, red and white sheets. Next to the set is a handful of sharp daggers and swords of varying sizes and a loaded crossbow.

Sydor grabs the crossbow and slings it over the shoulder of Etain, who will pose as Judith.

“I love Tracy’s vision,” says Etain. “I’m a simple creature and I love waving weapons and screaming. There’s been so much angst recently, it’s great to have a vent for that.”

Her costume echoes revolutionary army garb: a black collared jacket with thick black buttons that run in two parallel rows down the front. The long skirt adds a feminine spin. She’s got dark eye-makeup and her natural red hair is shaved on the sides and styled in a way that mimics a mohawk. Sydor helps her settle on the bed and selects a dagger for her to use as she practices posing, ready to slice the head off of Holofernes.

“I don’t want you to do that though, that’s just the story,” Sydor says as she recounts the greater context of her vision.

As the clock nears 6 p.m. more and more women arrive. Although close to 50 people agreed to participate on Facebook, Sydor expects around 15-20 to show up. They each come with a white nightgown, into which they all hurriedly change. Sydor has prepared a gaudy white ceramic pitcher filled with mud from her yard for the ladies to smudge over their garments.

“I’m a friend,” says Brandi Wilkens, who is pacing anxiously as she awaits instructions from Sydor on her specific role in the photograph. “I don’t usually get in front of the camera but this seemed important enough so I wanted to jump in.”

One by one Sydor places the women somewhere in the scene as scythes, pitchforks and a broom get handed out to the models. The one and only man is laid back shirtless on the bed. One woman holds his head in place by his hair. Etain looms above him with a large dagger aimed at his throat.

“Who am I missing? Who am I missing?” she keeps saying, scanning the room and directing the stragglers.

When everyone is in place, she gets behind the camera, shouting orders and trying to make sure she can capture every individual face in the photograph.

“The idea is that you’re all here, you’re all beautiful and you’re all participating in this,” she says.

The camera begins to snap.

“Show me what pissed off looks like,” she shouts as she draws her head back away from the viewfinder. “Get mad.”

The women start to yell as their bodies lean forward toward the bed, weapons erect, the upside down flag billowing behind them.

Sydor continues to maneuver onto the set between shots to move arms and props so that she can see everyone in the shot.

“I know this is uncomfortable,” she says apologetically as she gets back behind the camera. “But it looks fucking sick.”

She gets the shot she’s looking for in no time and everyone releases. The women are giddy with success and mill about the room looking for their clothes and belongings, giving hugs to one another and, especially, to Sydor.

“The political season that we’re in is pretty powerful so you don’t get much chance to have a strong voice,” says Crystal Morrison about her participation in the shoot. “I take every opportunity that I can.”

FLUX, an experience

By Justin Whitmer

My experience in Flux is difficult to put into words, and yes, I am aware of the irony of that statement. As one of the younger Fluxers on staff – or, as Todd has affectionately coined me, a “cub” – the constant stream of first experiences has been intense. I never knew what it felt like, for example, to sit down in front of my laptop, geared up and ready to write, and then realize, “oh dang, hundreds of people are gonna read this,” and then totally freeze. Scary stuff for a cub. But hey, growing pains are part of the game, and they were more than offset by the sweet, ever-inspiring relationships I was privileged to co-create with such a marvelous group of individuals. With Flux being the pressure-cooker that it is, you would be hard-pressed to find a more poised and creative team than the one we have here to navigate the chaos with grace, grit, and professionalism. They move me, inspire me, and sometimes, they just downright spook me. They’re wicked smart, is what I’m trying to say. Two individuals in particular who have left indelible marks on the way I approach Journalism are writer, Josie Fey, and photographer, KJ Hellis, two of the most talented, sharp, and all-around hilarious people I have ever met. With Josie’s dexterity as a writer, and KJ’s knack for capturing humanity in a moment, my job working as an assistant reporter on our story, “Political Pioneers,” was a rich and generative experience that will hopefully culminate in a killer feature, but has already landed me a friendship that outshines even its sparkling prose. As a first-time reporter with a youthful tendency to seek out role models and integrate their gifts, I gotta say, I got spoiled with these two.

Portland Women's March January 2017

Building Trust

By Josie Fey

Last weekend I attended the Association of Alternative Newsmedia’s AAN Digital 2017 conference in Portland. Co-hosted by Willamette Week and The Portland Mercury, the event brought together journalists, editors and students in alternative media from around the country to discuss new trends and strategies in the field.

That Friday happened to be the day of the presidential inauguration, so with the election fresh on my mind, I first attended a session about rebuilding trust in the media. It was co-lead by University of Oregon journalism professor Damian Radcliffe, and JoEllen Green Kaiser, Executive Director at The Media Consortium.

Both presenters gave a plus side: people are interested in what’s happening within their communities and still have faith in their local, alternative papers. However, it is the corporate, national media that are having trouble retaining that kind of trust.

But no media outlets are immune to the occasional side eye, and it never hurts to re-establish trust with audiences. Radcliffe gave us a few strategies to consider in pursuit of this goal:

  • Be willing to rethink the old philosophies of journalism – prioritize creativity over objectivity.
  • Actually put these new ideas into practice.
  • Be cognizant of the evolving consumption methods of the audiences you’re trying to reach.

All great ideas, but I couldn’t help thinking about the paradox we formed in our breakout session. Here was a group of journalists sitting together, talking about how to be more effective for  their audiences while inauguration protests were amplifying just a few blocks away.

The following day, two fellow reporters and I made our way to the Portland sister march of the worldwide Women’s March on Washington to join in solidarity and document the historic event.

We went straight toward the speaker’s stage to be close to the action, and pretty soon we were enveloped into a muddy crowd that had begun to stretch all along the river and into the city. The sheer volume of people and the intersection of activism blew me away. I was moved by the experience and wanted to keep up the momentum.

Once I got home and took stock of it all, I wondered – in this new paradigm, how can a journalist really connect with people? And then I thought back to what I’d learned in Damian’s session the day before: simply, be trustworthy.

So, how can we put that into action? Luckily, he laid out some tactics to support those get-people-to-trust-you-again strategies we discussed before:

  1. Focus on reporting stories that you won’t find elsewhere, so your audience knows you’re going the extra mile to keep them informed. Don’t do what everyone else is doing.
  2. Celebrate successes more! Step back when you’ve done something right and take stock in it. Use that going forward.
  3. Seek out partnerships with “unusual suspects.” Try collaborating on stories with other media outlets or organizations with whom you’ve not worked before. Don’t isolate yourselves.
  4. Don’t be afraid of solutions or advocacy journalism. The way we tell stories must evolve. Objectivity isn’t necessarily the standard by which you should continue to operate.
  5. Be transparent with your audience about your story development processes. Secrecy is out and engagement is in. Events are a great way to facilitate this (and perhaps raise money).
  6. Get creative about the ways in which you tell stories. Work with local visual or performance artists. Again, ask your audience what they’d like to see. Think outside the column.
  7. Label your content. Be explicit about commentary vs. news or the difference between sponsored content and native advertising. Not everyone is familiar with these terms, and people should know what they’re reading.

But there’s something I would add. When I got to the march and found myself shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people, I put away my voice recorder and notebook and just absorbed what was happening. I watched, and listened, and commiserated with my friends about the relentless rain. In other words, I was present. I did connect with people.

Being trustworthy, in the context of journalism, means prioritizing our role as a member of society before “getting the story.” So here’s my additional tactic for getting people to trust you: If you find yourself in the middle of a historical march, get off your computer and get on your feet. You can always write about it later.

The Hardest Conversation

Words Jonathan Bach

The door closes behind me. As I get farther down the driveway, moonlight replaces the glow from our porch lamp, illuminating the snow underfoot. I just need to get outside and breathe for a minute.

It had been roughly eight years since my mother was diagnosed with end-stage renal failure. Translated across the medical terminology: a person’s kidneys aren’t working normally and can barely help the body anymore. Mom had been in the hospital recently with seizures from a heart infection. Now that she was back at home, she wanted to have the “end-of-life” conversation with me.

It is a talk for which I am not prepared, so I respond by getting up and walking out the front door.

I knew I didn’t want to see my mother go, and to talk about the possibility of that happening felt frightening. From when I could first toddle, we’d been best buddies. When I was small, she and I would snuggle up on the living room couch in the evening and watch her favorite after-work primetime dramas. As the years passed, with the patience only mothers can seem to muster, she encouraged me through a fervent Obi-Wan- Kenobi phase, a bike racing phase, and a jazz musician phase, complete with harsh fortes coming from our piano.

For her sake, I should turn back and go inside, but for a time I just keep walking.

We were living in Montana when she was diagnosed. At 11, I didn’t understand that lots of families go through bouts when a loved one has a bad disease. As her kidney failure worsened, we relocated around the United States in search of adequate medical care. We moved to Bend, Oregon, in 2008 and finally found the care for which we had been searching. Though our situation continued on imperfectly—Mom’s visits to the hospital still occurred often—the turbulent waters seemed to calm themselves for a time. But one phone call shattered the semblance of stability I had attained: In the winter of 2013, during my sophomore year at the University of Oregon, my dad called to say Mom was in the hospital again—and this time it was bad.

Dad, a steel-hard man who’d been through years of his wife’s medical ups and downs, said something to the effect of, “You may want to come back home. Your mother’s not doing too well.” He said she was on life support and was having seizures because of a heart infection. She was immunocompromised, the doctors had said, which meant her immune system was weaker than the average person’s, making it easier for infections to take hold. While hospitalized, she was incoherent and could hardly eat.

That winter break, in a hospital room that overlooked the city, I saw her convulse and seize as she fought her heart infection. She was in the hospital, and then in rehab, for roughly three months. But then, as if God had decided to grant us a midwinter miracle, she began to recover. She slowly regained her ability to speak and move. She relearned how to hold a fork. During the recovery, a therapist would have her take a small bite of food and swallow to help her wean off liquid protein shakes. She eventually came home from the rehab center to her beloved cats, two dogs, and her family.

The moon is out. I get down our long driveway and know I should turn around.

I’ll only realize later, after she has fought off this latest challenge to her health, how difficult it must be for someone who is staring out over the edge of a perilous cliff to say, “I don’t know how much longer I have to live.” And watching her through the ensuing years, I’ll learn that when adversity comes your way, you have to try and roll with the punches, even if some hit with more “umph” than others. But that insight awaits.

On this night, I crunch back through the snow to the porch. Open the door. Walk past the familiar staircase in the house that had finally become home and go into the room where they brought her after she had arrived from the hospital. I walk to her bedside where she sits waiting for me. I sit beside her and say, “Let’s try again.” Her frail body has been beaten by infections and seizures, so I hug her carefully. She is still the same tough woman I’ve always known. She is still my mother. And now I am ready to listen to what she has to say.

illustration by Natalie Greene