SEAVIEW — Reporter and photographer Luke Whittaker recently joined EO Media Group, the publishing company that produces the Columbia River Business Journal, Chinook Observer and Daily Astorian.
In late April, Whittaker, 30, moved to Seaview to work as lead reporter for CRBJ, a monthly publication that focuses on business and industry in Clatsop County, Ore., and Pacific County. Whittaker will also cover general news assignments and features for the Observer.
Whittaker grew up on a family farm in Huntingdon, a town in south-central Pennsylvania. The fifth of seven children, he has four older brothers, one younger brother and one younger, (presumably very resilient) younger sister. When Whittaker was a child, his mom and step-dad, who had previously worked as educators, switched to raising grass-fed beef. Two of his older brothers were passionate about farming, and another went into teaching special education. Whittaker thought about following in their footsteps, but couldn’t ignore his taste for adventure.
During the family’s annual summer trips to the Delaware shore, he fell in love with the idea of becoming a commercial fisherman. His parents weren’t convinced it was an ideal occupation for a farm-boy from a landlocked state, and they urged him to get an education. To appease them, he agreed to study journalism at a school outside of Pittsburgh after high school.
Photography leads to journalism
In the end, he didn’t love the school, but he did love writing and photography.
“My whole approach is to give a voice to people who wouldn’t necessarily have one,” Whittaker said. “I pride myself on finding them.”
Around that time, Whittaker took a job at a Colorado summer camp for kids with developmental disabilities. He eventually moved to Colorado, and worked at the camp for several summers, teaching kids how to fish.
Staff at the camp knew Whittaker loved photography, and asked him to produce a weekly photo-newsletter for campers’ parents.
“It kind of just snowballed and became a big part of my job there,” Whittaker recalled. “I spent every minute when I should have been sleeping putting together these slide shows for the parents.” Documenting life at the camp became a formative experience.
“It showed me the inherent power that photography can have,” Whittaker said.
With encouragement from coworkers and friends, he enrolled in Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he earned a bachelor’s in journalism, with a concentration in photojournalism. At Metropolitan, he had the opportunity to learn from former photo staffers from the defunct, but highly-respected Rocky Mountain News, and to complete a photo internship at the Loveland Reporter-Herald.
In love with the West
When he first moved to Colorado, Whittaker found the locals’ informal, chatty style a bit disconcerting.
“I had still had an East Coast mentality,” Whittaker laughed. But when he moved back home to work at the Huntingdon Daily News, he realized that he missed the more casual Colorado culture. He started applying for jobs out west.
“It was the people,” Whittaker explained. “The further west I got, the friendlier they seemed to get. The people really just seem happier!”
At the Colorado camp, one of Whittaker’s best friends was a commercial fisherman from Oregon.
“He kept saying, ‘Oh man, you haven’t seen a river until you’ve been to Oregon!’ I knew I had to get out here,” Whittaker said. When a job opened up at the twice-weekly News-Times in Newport, Ore., he headed west again.
In Newport, he covered everything from climate change to car crashes, but he specialized in stories about arts and entertainment.
Whittaker said he carries his camera with him everywhere he goes, and spends as much time as he can exploring the communities he covers.
“My favorite [assignments] were when I just got to meet people and tell their stories,” Whittaker said.
Industries and entrepreneurs
In his new role, Whittaker will focus on local industries and entrepreneurs. As someone who grew up in a rural community, he’s especially looking forward to highlighting the region’s unique natural resources, scenic beauty and local producers.
“I see a lot of commonalities between farmers and fishermen. They’re passionate about a lot of the same things,” Whittaker said.
When he’s not at work, he’s usually hanging out with his recently adopted dog, fishing, hiking or camping. Now that he’s finally made it to the far western edge of the continent, he’s studying maps of local wilderness areas, and thinking about doing more exploring by mountain bike, or possibly even kayak.
So far, he said, Seaview feels like a great fit.
“Everyone’s really friendly. You can tell it’s close-knit,” Whittaker said. “People here are genuine, sincere, authentic. I think you find that in small towns. That’s really why I wanted to come back to a small town.”