By Gregory Bernardi
If my summer at Channel 2 in Buffalo, New York taught me anything it was, above all else, that original reporting is rewarded. At the start of every shift was a news meeting, where reporters, photographers, and assignment editors would toss around story ideas for that day’s news. While some reporters brought original ideas to the meetings some anchors – the people making the most money – would only mention stories that they had read in that day’s newspaper. When this happened, everybody at the conference table cringed because it was embarrassing to witness. While the reporter carried on about what a great idea he or she had, the rest of us rolled our eyes. I made the mistake of showing up to my first day without any story ideas, not expecting to be part of the brainstorming circle. That was the last day I was unprepared. Every day after that I came into the newsroom with several new ideas, many of which the station followed through on and reported.
I was, however, on the giving end of advice once, too. On my third day, I went with a reporter and photographer to a school board meeting. We covered the board president’s apology for sending racially insensitive emails using his school account. While there, the reporter interviewed a woman with a complicated last name (a name which escapes my memory now). But while the reporter obtained the correct spelling, he never clarified which letters were capitalized and which were not. I asked the woman the correct spelling and capitalization, and passed it on to the reporter, who thanked me over and over again for helping him. At the end of the day, the photographer said he had worked with many interns in the past, some who “got it” and some who didn’t. He said I belonged to the former group, and that made me kind of proud.
My first assignment was covering a missing child scare in Buffalo’s crime-plagued East Side. The child wound up okay, but the Buffalo Police spokesman gave a short press conference afterwards, and I was introduced to him. He praised me on my attire, which was a suit and tie, and said that good dress goes a long way in a professional business atmosphere. I wore a suit and tie every day after that, and was the only summer intern in the newsroom who took initiative to dress carefully and professionally. From time to time interviewees would ask reporters why the intern was dressed better than they were, which always made everybody smile.
Throughout the whole summer, though, I have only one regret. I was in city court covering the arraignment of an NHL player – Patrick Kane, last year’s rookie of the year. When he exited the courtroom, the reporter handling the case went down to the courthouse steps, where a short press conference was to be held after arraignment. She had a camera because she works as a backpack journalist. I stayed upstairs with another cameraman who was to shoot video of Kane exiting the courtroom. When the next available elevator came, the defendants and their lawyers were escorted in, leaving the press behind to wait. I got a bit star-struck, owing to me being a lunatic of a hockey fan. When I looked down, I realized I had the reporter’s microphone clipped to my belt. She was alone downstairs without a microphone to record the most important news of the day and I was upstairs waiting for the next elevator. She ended up recording the whole thing using the camera’s internal microphone. I was sweating bullets, not knowing if the audio was going to be acceptable or not. While the audio was just fine, I learned that a microphone and its corresponding camera should never be apart, because our station could have missed the biggest story of the day and it would have been partly my fault. I also learned that I can’t get caught in the moment, because news might pass me by in the meantime.
1. As for advice to future interns, my first bit is to overdress. I had no idea who I would be meeting on any day, so I wanted to make the best impression I could.
2. Interns should always introduce themselves. If you just stand back in the shadows you won’t get anywhere with the reporter or with the interview subject.
3. Interns need to remember names. Some people are better at this than others. I have always had a good memory for names, and it means a lot to be able to call somebody, interview subjects and coworkers alike, by his or her first name.
4. Interns should never be afraid or nervous to speak up. If an intern has a good idea and never says it, it might get reported later and the intern will feel bad for having said nothing.
5. Interns should be thorough. Just because reporters and photographers get paid, that doesn’t mean they’re the best at what they do. Sometimes interns know how to do things better than the professionals do.
6. What happens here stays here. Reporters are just like all other employees, feeling overworked and underpaid. Some will complain about their work environment or their boss. Keep their confidence and interns will find they are much closer to some people when leaving, a relationship that may prove beneficial later in life.
7. Get to the newsroom early. I tried to show up to work at the same time or before the other reporters. Sometimes I didn’t, but when I did I had extra time to research story ideas or work on my own projects.
8. Always carry a pen and pad of paper. This may seem obvious. I never knew when I was going to have to write something down, but more often than not the reporter was too busy to sweat the small details, so I recorded them for their use later on. It also looks great if an intern is prepared.
9. Act professionally but have fun. Some days are not going to be much fun at all. But the internship should be an enjoyable experience, and you get out of it what you put in. I went into the newsroom every day feeling excited to be there, and the rest of the staff picked up on it. For whatever it was, it was better than my other job, so that in itself was incentive to do my best. (By the way, my other job was slicing meat at a grocery store deli.