By Lindsey Welling
The newsroom was not made completely of glass windows as I had expected the first time I heard WTOP, a radio station in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, referred to as the glass-enclosed nerve center. In fact, there were very few windows to let the moonlight in at the time I’d walk into the newsroom. I was up before the sun and in bed before it set again. I now fully grasp the saying “the news never sleeps.” Even at 5 a.m., when I got in, something was always going on. Whether it was an early morning crime, a water main break or Edward Snowden requesting asylum, reporters were always hustling. And I didn’t have to be directly involved in the latest breaking story to feel a part of it.
Which I mostly wasn’t. The internship was harder than I had expected. I wasn’t simply handed assignments every day. And when I was, they definitely weren’t the most exciting. I spent a lot of time searching for stories. The editors were always receptive to ideas, but I learned that not all ideas become stories.
I was putting all my journalistic skills to work. Some days I would write for the web, take photos or do man-on-the-street interviews. Although I had some experience doing MOS, it was a fun and challenging experience. Through many technical problems and rude responses, I gained confidence.
My favorite days were those when I got the opportunity to go out with reporters. I was constantly asking the editors if there were reporters I could go out with. I learned the power of observation. One day, I went to my first news conference. I was going with Dick Uliano, a veteran reporter. I asked as many questions as I could about his experience as a reporter on the drive there.
He made sure we got there early, something I was constantly told is very important. While everyone was getting settled, he read over the news release again and started to brainstorm an angle. The news conference was about a large-scale undercover project targeting child predators. It covered the whole of the U.S., but WTOP is a local D.C. metro area station. He right away began explaining to me that a Maryland chief police officer would be speaking. He explained that using sound bites from him would give our story a more local angle that would interest more listeners.
It was a great experience watching him start from planning to a finished radio story that was only 40 seconds long. Timing became an important lesson. You only had 40 seconds to tell the listener, who is probably driving, the who, what, where, when and why. There were few exceptions. From going to the news conference with Dick, I learned that planning ahead and brainstorming were key to sorting through the long interviews.
Not every day was as exciting as that one. Sometimes, my day would consist of monitoring the news and pulling an occasional sound bite. I found myself out of my comfort zone and discouraged by the lack of welcome I felt. There were days I was referred to as “the intern” and shuffled out of multiple workstations. But I tried to make the best of those days. When I wasn’t doing anything, I simply observed. I watched the newsroom function. As I did, the name “the glass-enclosed nerve center” started to make a lot of sense to me.
A nerve center is defined as a group of nerves that act together to perform a function or a control center. The reporters acted as the nerves, working in constant collaboration to produce the most accurate and informative stories to the listeners. The newsroom itself was the control room. Phones were constantly ringing, e-mails coming in and reporters chatting. It was still an awesome day, even if it was spent just hanging out in the nerve center of WTOP in Washington, D.C.