For a college newspaper editor, being thrown into a firestorm was quite an experience.
Brenna Visser faced just that when, as editor of the Western Front — the weekly at the Western Washington University — the president of the Associated Students received racially charged threats. What ensued was three months of competition with national news outlets about race relations on college campus in the U.S.
“I was editor-in-chief at the time when we were reporting the fallout,” Visser said. “It was a very emotional experience dealing with something as volatile as a racial threat.”
Visser earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism with honors early this month and is now the South County reporter for the Gazette and Daily Astorian.
A former intern at the Skagit Valley Herald, a Washington daily, Visser’s interest in journalism is a lifelong one.
“I have always been fascinated with people, which I think is a big part of it,” Visser said from the Gazette’s Seaside office. “What intrigues me with journalism as a field is people call it ‘the first draft of history.’ You get to document a lot of the moments that would just be forgotten by the general memory, highlighting the stories that otherwise wouldn’t be told or wouldn’t be recognized.”
At the Herald, Visser drew readers’ attention with a feature story about the daughter of a state trooper who died in the line of duty. The daughter was so inspired by her father’s sacrifice she determined to become a trooper herself.
“It’s not breaking news, it’s not about taxes or how much money the budget has, but it’s a story that probably wouldn’t have been told without the work of journalism, highlighting someone’s personal struggle through grief,” Visser said. “Being able to give a community that was pretty heart-broken about this death a little bit of a silver lining was pretty gratifying.”
A native of Wenatchee, Washington, Visser is a “Pacific Northwest person, for sure.”
Cannon Beach offered a dream destination.
“My first impression was that it was beautiful,” Visser said. “I’d only been here under the context of it being a vacation place. Every other time I’d been here, I’d seen it for the excellent restaurants, and the beautiful beaches and the sunsets. I’m an outdoorsy person, and there’s lots of outdoorsy things to do. And I’m drawn to local journalism because of that small-town feel you don’t get in Seattle or Spokane or New York City.”
Out-sized issues loom in Cannon Beach, a city of 1,400 that bulges to hundreds of thousands throughout the course of the year.
Among topics on Visser’s story list are the city budget, parking and traffic, fire and public safety, emergency preparedness, the arts, the new Cannon Beach Academy — and the unique personalities that make Cannon Beach a destination locale.
“The issues that stood out to me the most are the debate between preservation of the environment versus meeting the needs of space for people, whether that be for housing, for businesses or jobs,” Visser said. “It’s a constant balancing act between preserving the reasons for people to come here but also making this place livable for the people that are here.
“So far, I’ve been telling people this place is uncharacteristically nice,” she added. “Everywhere you go people are trying to make your day better. I’m excited to be here.”
Got a story?
“Call the office,” Visser said. “Let me know what’s going on. I’m new here and I’m doing my best to get to know how this community works. The best way to do that is come and talk with me.”