By Janelle Clausen
When I first stepped into the offices of Newsday and later on, News 12, I thought I might be walking into a nightmare.
I’d heard from former interns about how much they worked and how deadlines their deadlines were. Rumors of producers driving their interns like slaves didn’t help. These tales had planted an idea of stoic, unforgiving editors in my head. Everything I wrote would have to be perfect. If it wasn’t, forever gone would be future employment at either organization.
The reality was different.
At Newsday and Newsday.com, I was entrusted with writing news briefs, making phone calls, interviewing people and even crafting a full story or two. It put my storytelling skills to the test. One of the very first stories was a sensitive one about Karen’s Hope, an organization seeking to help people with developmental disabilities become independent. It had a tragic origin story: Karen’s brother, who had been abused in a home and later died of cancer, inspired the creation of this nonprofit organization. I interviewed Karen and another source for about an hour.
My editor taught me how to boil all this information down into a presentable hard-news story—a skill that had faded in wake of my affair with flowery ledes and scene-setters. It was something I applied to later stories.
I also got the chance to establish correspondence with State Senator Jack Martin, who’d scored grants for many purposes over recent months. These included refurbishing a village hall, assisting an educational arts center, and the installation of LED lights somewhere. Somehow, my story about the latter caused some controversy—comments denounced this use of state money, and I even got an email or two about it. That was a fun experience.
But what wasn’t fun was realizing that the wording in one of my articles, which I technically only contributed reporting on, confused some people. I got an email inquiring whether the IRS in Holtsville had really closed. It also wasn’t so fun when my short stint of assembling political lists ended at newsday.com. I’ll also say that pitching a story for the Long Island Life section, while rewarding at first, was a frustrating exercise in miscommunication. That, however, is likely a rare experience. I wouldn’t necessarily tell an intern that that’s a normal situation, because it really isn’t.
When I transferred to News 12 for about five weeks, I went in without broadcast instincts but with a strong desire to learn. News 12 gave me all sorts of opportunities. I got crash courses in video production, script writing, hard and soft news reporting, teleprompting and how broadcasting actually works. It was truly priceless. I got to speak with reporters, editors and anchors and learn things relevant to any reporter: how to be conversational, seek out the right sources, manage my time and even deal with some failure. At the end of it, I really didn’t want to leave.
What I would tell an intern is that with every failure comes not the end of the world, but an important lesson. There’s no learning from success. It also doesn’t hurt to ask questions. They can range from “how did you get here?” and “what was your biggest story and how did you tackle it?” to “how can I improve on this?” and “how can I help?” If you’re having trouble with a story, ask an editor where you think it’s heading or what angle they’d consider. But also, be ready to take initiative. Whatever you do, don’t say no. And always, ALWAYS, be sure you know your hours, when you’re needed, and what’s expected of you.
Of course, there were times where I was frustrated at News 12 when I couldn’t go out for stories. Friends at WSHU got to go to Republican fundraisers, see Donald Trump, assemble their own pieces to reach a wide audience and so on. But while I technically didn’t publish for News 12, I did for Newsday, and I found new appreciation for cash-strapped local broadcasters. I also realized the value of teamwork and time: You can never get enough of it.
At the beginning of the internship, I thought I’d come to a final decision in the print and broadcast debate. Now I have the best kind of problem: I could go to either one.