Stony Brook’s training made my CBS internship sizzle

By Dahlia Ibrahim

When I applied for an internship at CBS News in October 2014, I thought it’d be a long shot, but I did it anyway. When I went in for my group interview the following month, I still thought it’d be a long shot—everyone next to me was from a name brand school, private and pricey. Among all the NYUs and Columbias around me, only two students were from a public university: me, and a classmate of mine.

Walking out of the conference room an hour later, my colleague, Sheena Samu, and I discussed the fact that we were the only ones in there with any sort of broadcast experience. We also discussed that we both thought we weren’t going to get the internship.

Five days later, we both received our acceptances packets via email, and the only thing we could discuss until January was how excited we both were and that we needed to buy more business clothes.

While our orientation was on a Monday—Jan. 12, 2015 to be exact—my first official day was that Wednesday, and it was overwhelming— in a good way, of course.

As I walked past the shiny silver CBS eye mounted on the wall in the lobby, I realized I was nervously strolling through the same hallways that Scott Pelley, Clarissa Ward and Jeff Glor stroll though.

But it was upstairs where my CBS idol worked, and luckily for me, I was placed in that same department for the tenure of my internship:  “48 Hours,” the popular true-crime newsmagazine, which had been my first choice on the application.

Susan Zirinsky is the show’s senior executive producer, also known as the boss. Her work is incredible, and I had always been a fan. That I got to be part of her team, even for four short months, was almost surreal.

I was one of two interns at “48 Hours”; the other was from Brooklyn College, and she had little broadcast experience. She was assigned to a project that she would be working on throughout her internship. When I wasn’t placed on a project,  I was a little upset. Looking back now, though, I’m so grateful I wasn’t.

Because I wasn’t, I met many different people, performed many different tasks and was involved with many different shows, or “hours,” as they’re called.

I was constantly switching between the planning department and what’s called “the bullpen,” where the production secretaries work. Many senior producers also work in the bullpen. Up in planning, I had the pivotal task of pitching, or proposing, stories, something that story editors at “48 Hours” take very seriously. After my pitches, one of the editors would sit down with me and analyze them—what was good, what wasn’t, and why “48 Hours” would or wouldn’t pick a particular story. From there, I contacted and booked sources, including a few convicted murderers and prisoners. (If you’re not familiar with “48 Hours,” watch an episode and you’ll understand why I had these interesting experiences.) I helped with research on several hours that were in progress and attended planning and production meetings.

I spent a week down in the post-production room, where the graphic engineers and editors taught me how to look at the rundown system, where they lay out the contents of each show in their specific order.  Another engineer showed me how they build their graphics: seeing the words “48 Hours” come swooshing in on the screen may only take a few seconds when watching the show, but it could take up to an hour to generate that one element. One editor let me build the opening graphic for that week’s episode because he saw on my resume that I have experience with AfterEffects, a graphics program. This is a skill I learned from Professor Jonathan Sanders in my television production class. The editor was impressed.

Another of my responsibilities was drafting scripts for the correspondent of “Crimesider,” a regular “48 Hours” segment that airs on CBSN, the network’s live 24/7 streaming video news channel. Michelle Sigona is the on-air “talent” of “Crimesider,” and does live pieces several times a week on CBSN. From the start, she was impressed with my script-writing skills and was surprised I could turn out a decent script in a matter of 20 minutes. (I owe my speed to Professor Steven Reiner.)

After I submitted a script to her, Sigona sat with me and tweaked it to her suit own her voice, just as any correspondent does. She told me what worked, what didn’t and how I could make the script better.

I remember on my first day, I sat down with most of the senior producers. The senior unit manager is Pete Marchetti, and he said something that stuck with me throughout my time at “48 Hours”: “Today, you’re Dahlia the intern. Tomorrow, you’re just going to be Dahlia.” And I was. I was a member of that team and was treated as such. I was invited to department birthday celebrations and to happy hours with the younger crew. I received meaningful tasks that contributed to several hours and worked on a couple of  “crash shows”—breaking news, or developments on stories that previously aired on the show. They’re called “crashes” because as soon as the news break, the whole team needs to put out a new show—“crash” it that very Saturday, no matter what. Crash shows introduced me to the true meaning of newsroom chaos.

At my internship, I made friends and found mentors. But more important, I became a better, more professional version of myself.

Overall, my time at “48 Hours” was nothing short of excellent. I succeeded, and my talents were recognized, which I owe to my education at Stony Brook University. I wrote scripts, built graphics, and made contributions and comments on each show I was involved with. I may not have been an NYU or Columbia student, like my fellow interviewees, but I didn’t have to be. As it turned out, I was more qualified than they were, and got at least as much out of the internship than anyone else there.

On my last day, the “48 Hours” team threw me a party. There were dozens of colorful cupcakes and a huge chocolate cake inscribed, “Dahlia, you rock.” Zirinsky, my idol, hugged me and thanked me for my work. The senior producers said they were going to miss me and demanded my personal contact information to keep in touch. The younger crew took me out for happy hour and told me I wasn’t an intern any more. I was a friend.

After all this, I can say that my experience was stellar, that I’m blessed to have gotten the opportunity, and that CBS News has definitely not seen the last of me.