My Source Didn’t Get Back to me so I Got a Tattoo

By Jen Cooper

Nothing went as planned.

I spent my first day reading East Meadow Herald papers for five hours, afraid to speak up and ask for something else to do. I thought I’d be meeting my editor, touring the building, and getting my first assignments. However, my editor wasn’t in until much later that day, and she wasn’t the original editor I thought I was to have. Things change.

When I did meet my editor the following day, I had already planned out all of the stories I wanted to write. I set immediately to call some local restaurants that I would be profiling, and was met with a lot of enthusiasm. I learned local people want to talk to reporters and will give me the most feedback. My first week was mostly calling sources to set up interviews, but that didn’t take long to do, so my editor assigned me calendar updates. I expected grunt work like this once in a while, but soon, it became my weekly assignment in addition to my other work.

The assignments I did over the following weeks were a mix of no-byline intern work and stories that I was interested in. This prepared me for what it will be like to have an entry-level job, doing a lot of work with not a ton of credit, which didn’t bother me. It was still cool to see the stuff I wrote in a published paper. I didn’t expect to feel so rewarded just seeing something I wrote being worthy of publishing even if no one knew it was me. But I did

Our paper deadline day was Tuesdays and the paper went out on Thursdays. On the Tuesday of the second week of my internship, I was working on my profile piece when I was assigned a last-minute story by my editor. The event had taken place over the weekend and I hadn’t attended, but I still had to find sources and get my first byline. I was initially frustrated because I was busy and didn’t like not knowing that I would be getting a last-minute assignment, but later, I came to appreciate this experience, which wound up occurring much more than that once. I do hope to work at a daily paper someday, and this was good practice for that situation.

I had another experience that gave me some good practice although it was very unpleasant. On my first interview on my first day on the job out in the field for my first big story, I was sexually harassed. A source put his hand on my arm and rubbed it up and down for much too long. I was paralyzed with fear but had no idea what to do.

This situation made me realize that sexism is still extremely prevalent in the industry (the source wouldn’t have done that if I were a male reporter) and that I need to be prepared for that for the rest of my career. I spoke with my editor the following day and she guided me on what it will be like for me and how I should respond to these types of situations. I am unhappy that it happened, but it was not the first time nor the last for that to happen to a woman, so now I know for next time how to handle that type of situation and that it is safe to stick up for myself.

My first story was a profile on an old, popular restaurant in the area. I made a lot of contacts in the Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club, and this restaurant was involved with both of these organizations as well as with the community. After that first story, I had a lot more free time than I thought, which I realized later was my own fault. I should have asked for more or taken the initiative to do more. I was nervous, though; it was my first time working in a field I loved and I didn’t want to take on more than I could handle.

Between talking to members of the Kiwanis Club and the Chamber of Commerce as well as at local schools, libraries and other public entities, I learned a lot about how the community government works. I was grateful to have learned this, and I would advise anyone planning on interning at a local paper to pick up this information as quickly as possible.

The biggest thing I learned from my internship is that things will NOT go as planned. Your editor will show up hours late, you will be assigned stories last minute, sources will come inappropriately close, you’ll have to push to get your stories published, and sources won’t get back to you. And that’s okay.

Future students: Don’t do what I did when things don’t go as planned. Don’t order $30 worth of lipstick. Don’t treat yourself to an expensive dinner. Don’t go get a tattoo. Yes, those things were fun. But the reality of the situation is that nothing will go as planned, and that’s okay, as long as you adapt to changing situations. Maybe treat yourself the once, but surprises will keep happening, and that can be what makes the job fun sometimes. I like not knowing exactly what’s going to happen. That’s where the story is.