Internship Lesson #4: A culmination of my summer

Chances are if you’re reading this post, you’ve read my other witty if I do say myself farewell post in the style of Rogers and Hammerstein. And if you’ve read that one, you noticed that I just recently acquired a habit of starting posts with “chances are.”

But this post, though accompanied by my usual sarcastic/pop-culture-riddled sense of humor, will be more detailed, more reflective and less Broadway.

I said “less Broadway,” not “Broadway-free.”

My grandmother always said that if you love a job the first day, you’re going to end up hating it, and if you hate a job the first week, you’ll end up loving every minute of the rest of it.

Well, “Grandma ‘Unch,” you were right.

By the end of the first day (at which point I felt like a total failure and that maybe I should have gone into forensic science like I wanted to when I was 13 instead of journalism and oh my God I’m going to die because I can’t do this) I couldn’t wait to get out of 332 Michigan Avenue. When I was finally out of the office and on the sidewalk, I reached my hand in my bag to get out my phone and ended up with a great series of paper cuts down the side of my finger because of my Intern Manual unceremoniously stuffed inside. I probably would have gotten away with just one, but I kept sticking my hand in my bag blindly without very much caution and ended up with four different slices, all stinging like a banshee.

I think I swore. I’m pretty positive I swore. The Segway tour of old people sporting Omaha shirts had passed by already, so it was okay. All I kept thinking was, “This stupid internship now gave me sixteen” (I multiply everything by four when I’m angry) “papercuts, and I hate my life and I’m going to miss my train and…”

I was partially catatonic when I got home. My cuts had gone from stinging to annoyingly itchy.

But that week passed. Life continued. I made a breakthrough on my spinoff on Chinese asylum seekers the next week. That day I started a Gmail message draft that I kept updating with what I did every day. Here’s what I wrote for that Tuesday:

Day four, and I feel better. I got a piece for the blog done, China’s moving along and I’m reading about mental hospital funding. It’s not glamorous, but to hell with glamorous. It’s a lot more useful than this spring’s shoe trends.

That was something I kept telling myself. No offense to fashion mag people (Prada is important, too), but I think one of the ways I got through a lot of the tough reporting and laborious data entry this summer was by reminding myself that this type of reporting mattered more than the kind I would be doing at a less-serious publication. You know that $175 million settlement Wells Fargo made after it was found that the mortgage lender was discriminating against minorities? That whole thing started out of now-publisher Kimbriell Kelly’s first story for The Chicago Reporter.

I call that some kick-ass journalism. Insert Chuck Norris-style journalism joke here.

Chuck Norris doesn’t check facts. Chuck Norris double-roundhouse-kicks facts.

So things got better, and I started learning a lot. I’m not just talking about the difference between fact checking and accuracy checking or how to talk to the important people of society. I learned a lot about myself and the strengths I have and (particularly) the weaknesses that I need to remedy.

For example, Maria, the reporter I worked with, told me that I get things done in a very quick and efficient manner, which is great. But then I can also tell, even before sitting down with Rui, my editor, that my communication with others needs work. I found myself several times this summer answering questions with way more information than needed, and not even with the most important information first. It’s something that I continue to struggle with in my news (and sometimes blog) writing, and I need to bear in mind that that weakness translates to my verbal communication.

The main thing I got from The Chicago Reporter was experience. I got to observe and learn how true investigative journalism happens, which is something I think every journalist needs to experience. My theory is that all journalists, whether they work for Mother Jones or Marie Claire, need to know how to conduct in-depth investigative reporting and spend time writing about issues that make a difference to society, and the Reporter has given me this chance. I’m no longer a hypocrite!

I also got to experience journalism in a way that wasn’t possible through the Columbia Missourian. Yes, the daily taught me how to turn over good stories quickly, a necessary talent in the age of digital journalism. But during this summer at the Reporter, I learned patience. That first day I left the office feeling like a total failure because I couldn’t find the information I needed in the 6 hours I spent looking for it. Then Christie, an intern who left a few weeks after I started, assured me that it was okay; if the information was easy to find, the Reporter wouldn’t be looking for it. Also, the Reporter is a bi-monthly publication so turnover isn’t as stressful. That in itself was a lot different than the I-need-it-five-minutes-ago journalism I practiced at the Missourian.

Also different from the Missourian was the type of issues I got to investigate with the reporters. Angela Caputo’s story on unoccupied Chicago Housing Authority public housing units was something I would never have gotten to research in Columbia, Mo., not only because of the physical location but also because of the demographics of a large urban area rather than the smallness of a college town. My sidebar for the September/October issue is an even better example of this, but I can’t talk about that yet. That issue comes out September 1, just in time for that long ride to Hogwarts.

I’m pretty sure there’s a newsstand next to Platform 9-3/4. You’ll find The Chicago Reporter nowhere near the Quibbler.

The paper cuts healed by the beginning of June, and so did my feelings for my internship. The initial fear was very similar to the kind I had at the Missourian, except instead of putting my GPA on the line, my professional integrity was at stake. So maybe the fear of failure was actually greater than what it was last August, or at least should have been.

I found that the fix for this, the antidote to the nervousness and dislike I had at the beginning, was just like what I did after work that first day when trying to rescue my phone from my Mary-Poppins-sized tote; I just kept plunging in, without any reservations. Eventually I got my phone out, just like I eventually got all of the lessons and experiences out of the summer, but it took a few paper cuts and tough days to get there.

Maybe that’s how it is with all journalism; just keep sticking your hand in the bag, ignore the paper cuts, and pull out what you’re looking for.

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