by Dipti Kumar
When I started my fall investigative internship with the magazine show “Inside Edition,” I walked in with expectations that any graduate student would have. The excitement to take on stories that uncover frauds, scammers and even vermin-infested restaurants sold me on the idea of doing investigative journalism.
When I started my internship here, the first lesson I had to pick up quickly was what type of stories could be pitched successfully.
It didn’t matter that I had a broadcast background because I learned that investigative reporting in broadcast has clearly defined subjects, namely: the good guy, bad guy and surveillance footage where possible. That’s what my producer, Larry Posner, has repeated to me on numerous failed story pitches.
Having spent time in print and online reporting over the summer, it did take me a few days to understand the working of the team and how they went about researching their stories. It greatly helped me to go in having experience with investigative reporting techniques that I had learnt in the JRN 555 course with Elizabeth Moore.
My knowledge of using research tools like Pacer, Guidestar and various other websites helped me look into records for the most inconspicuous details that would help the story progress.
The best part of being an investigative team member is the amount of multi-tasking you are expected to handle. No day was boring, because when I did get tired of scoping paperwork for bad veterinarians, I could switch gears and look up research for stories that another producer was working on. The gamut of stories was interesting and surely made each day worth my time.
The biggest rewards come when you least expect. I had done extensive research on a story about popular adman Kevin Trudeau and his lawsuit with the FCC. The story had been scheduled for a later airing date, but owing to new developments, I had the opportunity to work closely with the producer, sharing my research notes, cutting interviews and seeing the package come to life. A rare chance in an investigative piece.
Much of an internship involves doing “dirty” work, in parlance. This includes time-consuming tasks like transcribing, sometimes running errands and even being unable to go on a shoot after setting up everything. Having done these very tasks many years ago, it felt like I was being under-used in terms of what skills I could bring to the table.
This taught me a valuable lesson. Do any task excellently, and you will be noticed. With that attitude, I did whatever menial tasks were assigned to me to the best of my ability.
As an intern, I felt the biggest challenge for me was getting work from the producers. This meant I had to repeatedly ask the team if there was anything they could assign to me or that I could help them with. There were time when there wasn’t much, but I used the downtime to research my own story ideas. I pitched a number of these, but I soon realized they had been done or they needed a well-defined “bad guy” in the story.
The reward to consistency with simple tasks is when the team says you were an invaluable asset to them. So, for any internship or job you take up, it’s important to remember that doing the smallest of tasks well is better than wasting time thinking how you’re not using your skills or expertise.
At the end of my internship, I successfully pitched a story that my producers considered a good find. From helping find key details in several investigative stories to sourcing contacts for interviews on gambling, illegal dumping and bullying, investigative reporting is a test of patience and perseverance.