Newspaper internship teaches how to adapt to changing circumstances

By Dan Cristofaro

Dan CristofaroI’ve always been a TV type of guy. It’s where I get most of my news. When I graduate from Stony Brook it’s where I hope to end up. I thought, all I’ll have to do is practice my non-regional dialect, grow the typical anchorman-like hair and I’m set.

I was wrong.

Times are changing in the journalistic world. Media is converging. TV used to be just TV, but now it’s online and on-demand. Instead of just video clips, it’s text and copy, graphs and charts. I realized at this point that I couldn’t get by with just a well-combed mane. I needed to start with the basics. I needed to know how to write.

I’ve spent time interning at television stations and concert facilities dealing with video upon video, but I never spent anytime writing.

When the spring semester ended I took the seven and a half hour drive back to my home in western New York. There I started my internship at Messenger Post Media, a supplier of news to suburban Rochester and the Finger Lakes. The Messenger was just what I needed. The media company puts out a daily paper called The Daily Messenger along with multiple Post editions. The Post editions come out weekly in different areas across the Finger Lakes and Rochester. Each edition is catered with news specific to that individual community. Along with the papers the Messenger has a website, which is updated constantly.

Up to this point I really had little to no experience writing. I wrote one article in junior college and only about five or six during my first year at Stony Brook. Out of those I only thought maybe two of them were any good. I felt the need for improvement so I contacted the sports editor at the paper I read growing up. After sending him my resume and some writing samples, I was in.

I received another email from the editor, Mike Cutillo, soon after. At this point I was in, but I already felt in over my head.

He asked me if I was into golf. I said, “Sure, I love to golf. I do it any chance I get, though I’m not the best.” He then told me I would be writing a weekly golf column.

“Weekly?” I thought. It was tough enough for me to get those few stories in on time back at school and I had way more time than that. Also the Rochester area is known for its rich golf heritage and now, I would be writing about it.

Working on this type of deadline gave me a sense of structure and how the “real world” worked. I was thrown into the deep end, but I learned how to swim quickly.

On top of working on my weekly golf column I was given many other assignments throughout the summer. I was sent out on weekends to cover local softball games, golf championships and I even got to cover the final round of the Wegmans LPGA tournament at famed Locust Hill Country Club in Rochester.

When I was given my first assignment it wasn’t golf and it wasn’t even for the Messenger. My assignment was to cover the state finals for softball for the Poughkeepsie Journal, another paper owned by Gannett. It was my first true deadline assignment.

I headed out to Waterloo for the finals and thunder started to roll in. The final was delayed, which left less time for me to write, as my article had to be in by 8:00pm that night.

By about quarter to five the first pitch was thrown, almost two hours behind schedule. The game wrapped up around seven, I grabbed the interviews I needed and headed into the media room.

I had about 35 minutes until deadline with a blank page. To say I was nervous would be an understatement. I flipped out my laptop and furiously typed away. Surprisingly I managed to finish with ten minutes to spare. All that was left to do was submit the article to the editor and I was done. This is when I came across my next problem. I couldn’t connect to the WiFi.

I spent the next five minutes trying to figure out what was wrong but nothing; at that point I approached another journalist and asked him if I could grab his computer for a second. He was nice enough to let me and I submitted the story just in time.

This one example is a theme that carried with me throughout the summer and now, the rest of my life. I thought this internship would help me learn how to write, which it did, but it taught me a more important lesson, how to adapt.

Adapting to the unforeseen is one of the most important skills I’ve taken away from this experience. This isn’t a skill that can be taught in a classroom or read about it in a book. Experience is the only teacher and I had plenty of experience.

By the end of my internship I had around 30 articles published, in print and online. I learned the many nuances of AP style writing and improved my interviewing technique. The internship made me into a well-rounded journalist. I can edit video, go off a prompter, improv and now write. Now all I have to do is work on the hair.