By Tahseen Rabbi
China was the last place I expected to find opportunities for an internship. On the Journalism Without Walls trip to China in the summer of 2014, I found out about NowThis News. It is a startup news company that targets several social media platforms.
Professor Charles Haddad, who led the China trip, connected me to a former student at Emory University who connected me with the producer of NowThis News, Sarah Frank. I couldn’t get the internship over the fall semester because all the intern slots were filled, so I asked if I could start over winter break.
Frank did not respond for almost a month. I was afraid that she did not want to hire me and did not know how to say it! I was not sure whether I should email her again, but Professor Jon Friedman convinced me to shoot her an email one last time. I mustered up the courage to write to her, and I’m so glad I did. Turns out, she was just so busy that she forgot to respond. She told me to come in.
The first day of my internship is a blurred memory. Consumed by a nervous excitement, I remember leaving the subway station and getting lost. People were zooming past me as I looked down at the map on my phone. I was in the middle of SoHo, walking up and down the street, looking for 560 Broadway.
Finally, I found the building, nestled between Dean & Deluca and the Converse shop. Frank wasn’t in, so the second in command, Versha Sharma, decided to supervise me. She told me to edit a video of Christians celebrating Christmas in a Muslim country.
I had never used Adobe Premiere Pro before, but I got the hang of it. It is similar to Final Cut Pro. The staff introduced me to Reuters Media Express, APM Music and the site’s formatting style. They used specific colors, fonts and sizes. I was having so much fun editing that I didn’t notice how much time had passed.
The next day, I was assigned to the Trending team, which builds quick-turnaround videos on topics trending on the news and social media. NowThis News has accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and Periscope. Alyssa Kurtzman, the Trending producer, helped me so much. She took her time to teach me in detail about everything she wanted. I appreciated it so much because I felt so lost without her. She was very understanding. I was surprised she was not annoyed when I called her back multiple times to explain things for me.
After a few weeks, I got the hang of the style and pace. I started building connections with the people seated around me. Everyone was very casual. They spoke freely about their opinions and perspectives. Sarcasm was their second language. It was entertaining to overhear their conversations.
They sent me out with Andrew Rivera, a former intern, to hunt for little toy soldiers, nail polish and green cardboard for a mock version of the Super Bowl. Rivera used the green cardboard as the field, painted the toy soldiers to look like the players, and did play-by-plays with them. We also cut videos of the interviews after the game. NowThis News had just hired Rivera full time, and talking to him gave me hope that I, too, might be hired. He made me feel comfortable and more a part of the team, and he invited me to eat lunch with the rest of the crew.
Recently, NowThis News became affiliated with MSNBC. In my opinion, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing because the site will get more viewers, more coverage and more connections. The bad thing is that the site might censor itself more. When Brian Williams recalled his false memories on national television, I asked to cut a short video about that. Kurtzman was on board until she realized it might shame MSNBC. That idea was dropped.
Balancing my three upper-level journalism classes with traveling to Manhattan two days a week for my internship, plus having a job, was nearly impossible. For future journalism students taking a tough course load, I recommend not doing an internship in Manhattan on top of it. If I had declared my journalism major and taken certain classes earlier, I would have never been stuck in this situation. Sleep became a luxury. Friends asked me if I had disappeared.
In one instance, my producers asked me to stay for Super Bowl Sunday to help out. It meant staying until midnight, getting home around 1 a.m. and taking the 6 a.m. train on Monday to make it to class on time. Without any hesitation, I agreed to stay. I think it is important to be willing to take on any opportunities to show dedication.
As the end comes closer, I do not regret taking my internship despite the heavy course load. It was my sanctuary. I love the people who work there. They are open-minded, funny, young and lively. It was a joy to work with them. I am glad that I sacrificed sleep, money and a social life for it. I learned so much about the news, editing and organizing. Also, I think the company has so much more room to grow. It has been around for only two years and is already competition for long-time companies including Buzzfeed and Mashable.
The hope that sprang up when I went shopping for toy soldiers with Andrew Rivera has been realized. I’m very excited to be part of the company’s fellowship program this summer. I am glad I have experienced NowThis News and hope be a continuing part of its growth.