Be prepared to be unprepared

By Abigail Wolfenberger

The first day of an internship is like the first day of anything. You’ve prepared days, weeks and even months for what you expect to happen in the next eight hours and the days following. Not a hair on your head is out of place, and not a hand on your wristwatch is slow. You have enough adrenaline and anxiety running through your veins to fill an atomic bomb, but you convince yourself that the only thing exploding today is your coworkers’ minds when they see how brilliant an intern you are. You’re ready.

You scan your ID at the front door, and a tingle runs down your spine as you push it open with confidence and some caution. This is it. You walk into the newsroom, and it feels like walking into Times Square. It’s loud. The producers are shouting the latest breaking news to each other across the room while the phones and police scanners clamor for the assignment director’s attention. Some reporters are running back and forth from their edit bays to the printers while others stop in the middle of the room, eyes hooked on the multiple flat screen TVs playing other national broadcasts. No one even knows that you’ve stepped into the room, and you realize pretty quickly that that’s not going to change on its own. You have to decide at that moment whether you’re going to sink or swim.

I chose to swim.

I walked up to a reporter who seemed to be getting ready to head out for a story but was struggling to keep hold of all her equipment. I asked her if there was room for one more and started picking up her tripod, which was lying on the floor. She smiled and motioned for me to follow her. We got to talking in the car. Her name is Kristen Quon. She’s only three years older than I am and has already worked at two stations. She commutes 45 minutes a day to her job as a WJHL night-side reporter and is always available to listen to a story idea if you happen to have one.

We were on our way to talk to a local business about the town’s efforts in renovating one of the downtown roads when the assignment manager, Rex Barber, called. There was a city budget meeting that was meeting in one hour at a building 30 minutes away.

“You have to be prepared to be unprepared because you never know when Rex will call and have you rush over to something that you know nothing about,” Kristen said to me.

But that was no way to prepare for what happened next.

We were making our way through a back-road intersection when a red car on our left ran a stop sign, torpedoing into the station’s oldest car, in which we happened to be riding. I remember gasping as I saw what was too late to prevent, and I remember Kristen shooting back in her seat as she tried to avoid impact. Then there was white powder followed by a burning feeling on my arms. The airbags had gone off, shattering the windshield. I could barely hear Kristen asking me if I was okay over the ringing in my ears. I could smell smoke and thought the car was on fire, so I quickly grabbed whatever was next to me and bolted from the car.

We ran to the passengers in the other car to see if they’d been hurt. A high school girl was in the driver’s seat and her younger sister in the back. They were driving back from a peewee soccer practice and hadn’t been paying attention. The little girl still had on her cleats and jersey. Everyone was okay. The cops came and went, and a tow truck removed what was left of the totaled red car lying in the road. Our car was miraculously still working, and now we had to drive the smoking death trap back to the station.

We made it back but had missed the budget meeting. However, because the accident had only left us with minor scrapes and a few shattered nerves, both of us were still fully capable of still doing our jobs. A political protest was going on downtown, and all of the other reporters were on assignment. So we walked over to Rex’s desk and handed him the jeep’s keys. He handed us back a different set.

The protest story didn’t make any of the early evening shows, but it did make the 11 p.m. And after 11, we called it a day.

In your internship, and more important, in this business, you have to be prepared to be unprepared. No day is going to be the same, and no day will ever play out in the way you planned. There will always be a Rex on the other end of your phone and a red car in the middle of your road. So decide early if you’re going to sink or swim, and then do whatever it takes to stay afloat. And at the end of your internship, when you realize that you’ve actually done just that, it’s an incredibly fulfilling feeling. It’s one that I definitely suggest getting out there and experiencing for yourself.