By Michaela Kilgallen
On my first day, I didn’t know the Senate from the Assembly. By my last day, I knew more about state government than most people probably care to know.
In the beginning of my internship at the Albany Times Union’s Capitol Bureau, I was thrown into the last two weeks of the legislative session. Every day brought something new. Legislators, lobbyists and protestors were everywhere, and I didn’t have to look very hard for a story. One day, the second floor was flooded with residents of Hoosick Falls hoping to speak with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about the city’s water contamination. The next, I was surrounded by dogs and their owners advocating for an animal rights bill.
Spending every day at the New York State Capitol keeps you on your toes. You never know who is going to stop by the bureau’s office. If anything is happening in the Senate or Assembly chambers, you’re no more than 20 steps away. It’s not uncommon to see a reporter run into the Assembly to ask a legislator a question or get a front row seat for a heated debate.
Once the session ended, the tone of the building changed along with the types of stories I was writing. The seats of the chambers, once filled, went vacant. Finding a spot in the parking garage became significantly easier. And the halls were silent — aside from the occasional tour group, anyway. The slower pace of post-session life gave me time to work on longer, more in-depth stories.
Working around government, you get to meet some really passionate people. And I guess that’s what shocked me the most about this experience. Initially, I thought my stories would revolve around the legislation, but instead, most everything I wrote hinged on the people.
Throughout my time at the bureau, I learned how to truly appreciate criticism. My editor often edited my stories with me, which gave me the opportunity to see my strengths and weaknesses. I needed that feedback. It allowed me to look at my writing through a different lens.
I also learned how to be creative with my work. Often, I had to figure out how to make stories about bills or MOUs—memoranda of understanding—sound interesting. My editor showed me how to add dimension to stories that could have been pretty lackluster. I’m no longer afraid to add a little wit or some humor to a topic.
Looking back, I wish I’d known to relax a little. Sure, I made mistakes along the way. I wasn’t perfect, but as cheesy as this might sound, internships are about growth. I had to realize that I’m still learning, and that’s okay. It never feels good to make an error, but it’s important to take something, whether it be knowledge or insight, away from every experience.
Dear future interns,
Keep an open mind. State government might not seem like the sexiest beat, but it has its moments. First of all, architecturally, nothing beats working at the New York State Capitol every day. You’ll be one of the very few who can walk down the Million Dollar Staircase on a daily basis. Trust me, you’ll feel like you’re at Hogwarts.
Secondly, and on a more serious note, stay productive. Every day you should walk out of that office feeling like you accomplished something. It can be big, like a front-page story, or small, like a legible page of notes. Whatever it is, stay driven. Everyone you will get the opportunity to work with is not only smart and talented but also incredibly encouraging. Get creative. Show initiative. Have fun.