The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Roger Werth Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

June 16, 2014


“Photographing the Northwest's Most Famous Disaster”  June 16, 2014  Location: Offices of the Longview Daily News, Longview, Washington.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Werth discusses his upbringing, including his early interests in photography and the outdoors, his decision to attend Oregon State University, and his academic evolution as a college student. He also notes the important role that specific professors, especially Harrison Branch, played in his progression as a student photographer, and reviews his tenure as a photographer and editor for the Beaver Yearbook.

From there, Werth shifts focus to the beginnings of his career at the Longview Daily News, beginning with a three-month internship in the Spring of 1978, and reflects on the culture of the newsroom at the time.

The bulk of the session is devoted to Werth's memories of the Mt. St. Helens eruption of May 18, 1980. In this, he discusses the build-up over the course of that Spring to the major eruption, his activities on May 18th, and his recollections of taking and processing specific photographs over the course of a thirty-six hour "work day." He also describes his documentation of the devastation that ensued, including photographs of debris avalanches, flooding, and mud flows resulting from the explosion. He likewise makes mention of the process by which he and his colleagues at the Daily News were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for their efforts.

The interview concludes with Werth's thoughts on day-to-day life as a photojournalist, including his desire to spur community improvement through his work. Werth also shares his perspective on changes that he has seen within the world of newspapers and in the practice of photojournalism.