By Christopher Cameron
Working at WSHU Public Radio involves reporting on tiny things like local fishing quotas, contributing to national stories for NPR, and everything in between. The challenge of working for local radio is to make the mundane interesting, and make the big stories small enough for people to understand.
My first story at WSHU was about New York’s U.S. Senator Charles Schumer wanting looser fishing regulations in waters off Long Island. It sounded routine at first, but the struggle to figure out how much people should be allowed to fish is connected to everything from poor government oversight to global warming. As a matter of fact, it’s probably the one story I wish I had found time to do more on during the internship. No matter how big or small you think it is, there’s always a story nobody knows about yet.
Every edit is a rearranging of priorities. You and your editor are trying to negotiate what’s most important for the story and what’s most likely to get the audience’s attention. If you can learn to listen during that process, your editor can come to trust you enough to make some of those decisions yourself.
Your stories don’t always turn out the way you expect. You will take way longer to finish some stories than you’d think. Your editor will cut that one heartwarming sentence at the end of your script for time. And by the end of it, a story that might have taken you weeks to report on might only air for less than a minute. Don’t think that means you wasted your time.
And that’s not to say your editor will be holding your hand when you’re on an assignment, either. You need to learn how to pitch a story, get it approved, and then work on that story independently until it’s ready for an edit.
Do not expect your editor to even be in the same office as you when you’re working on an assignment or going through an edit. With both news directors at WSHU working on their own stories, there will be entire weeks where you might not even see them in person. Ask for help when you need it, but don’t expect a 24/7 lifeline.
Keep yourself busy. There will be quiet days, especially in local news. If a source isn’t calling you back, find another source to work with. Work on another story you might be thinking about. Look at stories other people are doing and look for a new angle. The internship is ultimately what you make it.
Something that might be difficult to foster in an internship, but becomes absolutely essential once you actually start your career, is building a trusting relationship with your sources.
It took me months of back-and-forth meetings with veterans groups on Long Island before I could do my story on the Veterans Court. Some of the best stories come from people that wouldn’t talk to just anyone. And if you can find those source and get them to trust you, you will have gained the edge over the competition on that beat.
Trust was a recurring theme for my internship, but there was also trying to find the right balance between patience and persistence. Some stories take more time, others take more effort. The best ones always seem to take both. And getting the kind of experience that lets you find that balance is exactly why you’re at that internship.