As a freelance writer for Tillamook PUD in Tillamook, Oregon, Denise Porter’s way with words and pictures is legendary.
“Denise has a knack for finding interesting people and making their story come to life with her words and pictures,” explains Ruralite Assistant Editor Mike Teegarden. “But I most appreciate that she is never satisfied. She constantly works to get better at her craft.”
In January, she was named Ruralite’s 2014 Writer of the Year.
“I approach every interview with the idea that I have no idea where it will lead,” Denise explains. “It isn’t my job to direct the bend of the story; I am simply listening. Often I’ve been surprised at what has unfolded. Everyone has a story to tell.”
Denise’s own story took root in a rich agricultural background. Her family owns a genetically elite herd of cattle that is sold as broodstock around the world. She grew up traveling with her parents, and credits that experience for her ability to recognize commonalities in people.
When it was time for college, she opted for a general agriculture degree at Oregon State University.
Then she began sharing stories.
“I took a part-time job at our local newspaper covering agriculture nearly 9 years ago and got a baptism by fire,” she recalls. “The paper owners threw a camera in my hands and sent back every story I wrote for the first 6 months. The critique process was brutal.
“I felt the farmers in my area deserved a platform to tell their stories. I decided to stick to it and learn the craft so I could be a storytelling vehicle for them. In prose, that means I’m pretty stubborn.
“It was certainly a steep learning curve, but was also a great opportunity to learn to write concisely. Criticism can either hurt your ego or shape you into a better writer.”
As her writing strengthened, Denise discovered her best asset was her connection to the community.
“The key writing ingredient is to know your subjects,” she says. “I’ve lived in this community most of my life. I like to sit in people’s houses or workshops and learn their stories. Deep conversation has always been a draw for me.”
The past year she has profiled a paramedic turned patient, reformed drug addicts, fitness gurus, and cancer survivors. As the Ebola crisis swept the nation, she shared insights from an evacuated Sierra Leone Peace Corps volunteer.
“By and large, the most interesting story subjects are the ones that do not covet attention,” she says. “Customers who call or email with story suggestions, I’ve found, generally have their own motive. I prefer subjects who are startled to discover that I think their story is interesting and that I would want to write it.”
She has uncovered tales of geocaching, sibling rivalries, a 50-year-long love story, a horse-riding club, and a pioneering museum. Her ag roots shined when covering a local dairy’s return to home milk delivery.
Denise’s photography skills have bloomed, too. She credits workshops with David LaBelle for streamlining her skills.
“Workshops with Dave taught me excellent photography basics,” she says. “I really appreciate his style and approach. It complements what I’ve been taught in news photography.”
Denise has been writing for Tillamook PUD since 2008. 4 times last year she earned Ruralite Magazine’s photo of the month award. Denise also won Writer of the Year in 2009 and 2011.
“Working with Tillamook PUD is the perfect fit for me,” Denise shares. “Both Barb Johnson and Dorene White are hands-off in the most wonderful way. They filter ideas and suggestions my way and are there to answer any questions I have. They are professionals who trust me to do the job I’ve been hired to do. They know I understand the types of stories they are looking for to engage with their readers and draw them into the magazine. They let me do my job. I love their trust in me.”
The Ruralite Writer of the Year is selected based on points awarded throughout the year from the magazine’s monthly writing contest. Twice in 2014, Denise earned story of the month honors, and she was nominated 4 other times.