From ‘a little bit lost’ to ‘so comfortable’ at WSHU

By Emily Benson

I vividly remember the day that Dan Katz, the news director of WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut, called me and offered me an internship position at the radio station.

My initial reaction, though I restrained myself from saying it aloud, was, “Why?”

I had very little radio experience outside of the radio workshop class I had taken with Professor Connie Conway, yet the clips I had produced won me a spot on an NPR-affiliated radio station.

I was shocked, excited, baffled and nervous all at the same time. I almost said no out of fear that I was not qualified. That I was going to show up and not have a clue what I was doing. That I was going to stumble my way through writing, editing and tracking my pieces. That I was going to feel like I was doing everything wrong along the way.

And let me assure you now, that is exactly what happened.

Every script I thought was good was always thrown out. Every sentence I tracked that I believed to be perfect was re-recorded four more times before it aired. I was lost at times and I did stumble, but it was because of this that I learned so much, not just about radio reporting, but about taking on new challenges that seem far out of your reach.

On my first day on the job, I came into the office, and Dan immediately sent me to work. Fellow intern Julio Avila and I began researching a toxic plume in Long Island’s groundwater, and as I was typing aimlessly in Google, I thought for certain I could not do this job. I didn’t even know what a toxic plume was! Turns out nobody really knew what a toxic plume was, and us trying to tell readers what it was ended up being a big part of the story. It made me feel better about asking questions on things I was unsure about. It was a legitimate newsroom, but I was still an intern learning her way around things, and I was supposed to ask questions. I was supposed to be a little bit lost.

Over the next few weeks, I found myself getting so comfortable with radio, tracking, editing and working in the bureau newsroom that it was almost hard to think of a time when I was nervous about being here. Dan Katz and Terry Sheridan are some of the kindest, more informative editors I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. They taught me how to shorten my script down to the basics while still keeping it exciting and engaging. They encouraged me to go out with Jessica Opatich and other WSHU interns to learn with them about getting interviews and practicing with the equipment. All the interns even spent a day just practicing how to read scripts, and the skills I learned that day I have used in every single piece I have tracked since.

For students considering this internship, I would advise a few things. One, try take Professor Conway’s radio class. It was not only how I found out about the radio internship being offered, but the class solidified my desire to work in radio. I loved carrying my recorder around; I loved that I couldn’t walk down the street without thinking, “Wow, that would be great natural sound!” It was such a fun course, and it really showed how much fun radio journalism could be.

Second, listen to NPR. A lot. It’s the same application in an aspect of journalism: If you want to know how to write, you read. If you want to learn to produce a news show, you watch the news. Radio journalism is no different, and the more you listen, the more you learn. I had always put on NPR when driving to the store or the mall, but once you start working in radio, you start hearing it differently. You know what stories are “readers,” which ones are “spots” and which ones are features. You start thinking, “How did the reporter manage to get that huge story down to a minute and a half long, or get that quote to sound so clear in a busy, crowded area?” It makes you think critically, and from that, you learn so much.

Lastly, be confident. I was so nervous about this internship, but from it I learned skills and knowledge about what working in a real newsroom, something that could never be taught in a classroom. Know that you are smarter than you think and stronger than you believe, and that as long as you try your best, your stories will be incredible.