Watching, listening, writing and learning

By Kyle Barr

My internship at Long Island Business News was my first time inside a professional newsroom, my first time writing breaking news stories for a specialized audience — in this case, Long Island’s business community. I saw how real experts in a field work. I heard them construct arguments and watched them construct articles. In a small newsroom with a small staff, I saw up close how people who make their living by writing think and work.

The editorial department had an interesting dynamic. On the left side of the room were two cubicles where Dave Winzelberg and Claude Solnik worked, sending barbs and quips back and forth to each other like an old married couple. Winzelberg is a wiz when it comes to real estate. Claude Solnik, in addition to covering the usual business stories related to acquisitions, mergers and the like, is the crusading type who especially likes to write about corruption or people being caught for bad business practices. After hearing something he cared about, even if it came from across the room, he would slide over to that person’s cubicle, lean over the side and talk his or her ears off.

There were only five reporters—six, including me. It was a strange environment. I wondered at first whether such a place could turn into a news mill. While the website always has its fair share of short, one-source articles, the general reporting skill of those involved allowed it to rise above that level.

But the size of the staff also put a lot of pressure on the journalists there. Jenna Marci, who works on the web portion, often does the work of several people. Solnik and Winzelburg also do quite a lot of articles. Everybody there is a reporter on top of other responsibilities.

Really, I learned that the most important thing a news organization can do is make its staffers feel involved in the objective of the paper. Long Island Business News is a business-to-business newspaper, but the reporters truly care about reporting about injustice, and they enjoy finding the human element in business.

Editor Joe Dowd and the other editors care about the people who work under them. They are strict on deadlines, and they push interns hard, but they respond well to those who clearly put effort and initiative into their work. I once got sick, and I told one person at the office that I was honestly very sorry that I wasn’t able to make it. I asked if I could just work from home. They said I didn’t have to, but I insisted.

I was allowed to set my own hours from the beginning, and I made it a day, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. My usual duties were working on the Movers and Shakers portion of the site, working on the calendar, helping with copy editing and, of course, writing articles. Often I was given an article from the LI Focus section, which mainly dealt with features and other overview type articles. I worked on short stories for the web, but I was also allowed to pitch my own stories, such as one I did about bookstores and another about changes concerning accountants and health care.

One of the most interesting aspects of working at LIBN is constant contact with public relations people. They are gatekeepers, and a bad one can ruin your day. I was lucky that LIBN already had good relationships with many spokespersons.

I have never been pitched pieces before, and at first, I was hesitant to respond. I had always felt that PR people were the enemy, based on my experiences as a student reporter at Suffolk Community College and at Stony Brook, where the media relations staff has always hindered, never helped.

When a PR person praised one of my articles, saying that he loved it, I leaned back in my chair. My first thought was that I wasn’t there to please the PR person; I was there to deliver information to the audience. Getting compliments from a spokesperson felt, in a way, wrong.

But I had to get over these feelings. Of course I had to maintain my independence, but I could take ideas that a PR representative offered and move beyond them. I did this with an article about the shortage of airplane pilots, which was pitched as a way to get attention to a PR agent’s client, but I felt satisfied when I expanded it into other aspects of the situation.

The internship was a provocative experience. It makes me hunger for another newsroom environment. I enjoyed the people I worked with and enjoyed the articles I wrote. I hope one day I can do the same thing professionally.