The value of taking the initiative 

By Abigail Wolfenberger

As a journalism student, you try to picture your life outside the walls of your classroom. But what you come up with is really only a mixture of guesses and wishes. I’m not the same student I was before my internship at WJHL News Channel 11 in Johnson City, Tennessee, during the summer of 2015, and I’m definitely not the same journalist.

WJHL is a tiny news station in a tiny town that is majorly opinionated.  Its main viewer is an extremely conservative, fundamentalist Christian. So three months of news about legalized same-sex marriage, terrorism attacks, presidential campaigns and the banning of Confederate flags made for a golden summer.

A newsroom is hectic. Everyone’s breaking backs for breaking news. It is an interstate of racing people, and if you don’t help the flow of traffic, you’ll become an inconvenience. You cover crashes; you don’t make them.

As an unpaid intern, I knew it was crucial that I prove myself. The station already has its fill of paid reporters. They didn’t really need me, but I needed them to think as if their fate rested in my efficient hands. I wanted to make sure WJHL felt my loss when I went back to school. And that’s exactly what I did. Every day, I was on my feet and ready to listen.

Preparation and punctuation show promise. The day shift starts at 9 a.m., but I would walk in at 8:45. Those 15 minutes were precious. The night-side reporters are coming in from the field. This was the perfect opportunity to figure out if they had any leads or story ideas. With 10 minutes left until the assignment and news editors walked in, I researched ideas from the night shift. By 9, I had story pitches prepared for the producers’ meeting in case dayside was running short on leads.

Attentiveness was key to my success. The life of a reporter, producer or editor is ridiculously busy. I made sure to show great appreciation for any time they took out of their day to educate and guide me. Watchdog Nate Morabito told me that much of his success has come from asking colleagues to critique his work. Therefore, I asked him to critique my performance as an intern. Investigative reporter Kylie McGivern told me to find and pitch stories of my own. I found a story involving a local airport’s renovation and pitched it to news editor Jennifer Dale. She congratulated me on being the first intern to ever approach her with a story idea. Online manager Jenny Sprouse told me no intern had ever gone out with night-side reporters. The next day, I woke up at 3:30 a.m. to shadow night-side reporters Micah Smith and Ted Overbay. I was once again congratulated on being the first intern to take that shift.

I couldn’t possibly put a value on what I am taking away from this internship. I’ve worked with digital photographers. I know how to get creative with the scenery and shot, how to white-balance a camera and how to run a microwave truck. I spent much of my time with the online managers. I know how to look for viral content, how to write a crime report and how to write a story from just a reporter’s tweets. My favorite time was spent with the reporters. I know how to properly research a story, build connections, shoot a stand-up, work live shots and get heard at a press conference.

I was very nervous before starting this internship. I wasn’t sure at all what they would be expecting from me. I thought I would be told what to do and where to go, and I was completely wrong. I could do and go wherever I wanted, but I had to take the initiative. If I wanted to shadow a reporter that day, I had to approach the reporter and ask him or her. I greatly wish I had known this before my internship. I feel like I lost a lot of time twiddling my thumbs during the first week.

This was one of the most amazing summers I have ever had. Interning at WJHL would be a remarkable experience for any SOJ student. You are in complete control of your internship. The only one who can hold you back is you. I was allowed to go on any story and shadow any individual I wanted to. I also was in control of my own shifts. I could come in for any shift I pleased. But most important, working at WJHL made me certain that journalism is the career path I want to pursue.