Friday, January 18, 2008

Lessons Learned from an Intern

I have been back in California for almost three weeks and have thought a lot about my experiences in Washington. I wanted to post some of the things I learned from my time there as an intern at WashingtonPost.Newsweek Interactive, and also from my summer internship at NBC11 and the time I spent as a reporter last spring at the Spartan Daily. So here are the top ten things I have learned from my year working as a journalist:

10. TV is cool after all. Five minutes in the control room of a TV station during a live news broadcast gave me a whole new perspective and appreciation for TV news. I have always been a newspaper kind of guy, and sometimes we poke fun at the TV people, but they are very talented and hard working people that work magic every night at 5, 6 and 11. I also loved being part of the new things they are working on like the nightly chat and HomeTown.

9. TV is not for me. One of the reasons I respect the TV people is because I could not do their jobs. I think I am going to stick with newspapers and Web sites. They are just more my style.

8. A picture is worth a thousand words. I have always had a suppressed desire to be a photographer. Working on gave me a chance to try it out and I loved it. Some of my pictures were even printed in the Washington Post! Photos can express a story and convey emotion in a way that is not always possible with the written word.

7. Video is even better. I liked being a photographer, but what I am really excited about is video. Video can combine the power of the visual image with sound and action to tell stories with real power.

6. But not always. Numbers 9 and 10 are not always true. Photos are videos are great, but sometimes the best way to tell a story is still to use old fashioned words. Just because we can do videos and slide shows and podcasts and flash graphics and more does not mean we have to for every story. Another intern and I went out to do a story about families who cut their own Christmas trees. We wanted to do a video to go with the story, but we ended up being out in a major snow storm. The snow made a nice setting, but also made it harder to get good video. We finally realized the story was going to be perfect with words and photos and that we were wasting our time trying to do a video that we didn't really need.

5. Work in harmony. The best way to tell a story often is to use a combination of media. I am really proud of my high school football video, but it doesn't make much sense unless you read the story first. It is almost always best to combine some aspect of words, photos, graphics and other elements. Even an fantastic photo can befit from a good caption. I think this is what one of my professors, Mack Lundstrom, was trying to tell me one time, but I wasn't getting it until I saw it for myself.

4. Corporate culture is crucial. I have learned how important it is to work in a place that you love. The TV station was too big and impersonal for me. WPNI was an great company with the feel of a Silicon Valley start up, even though it is considered part of the MSM. Of course, the amazing team that I got to work with was the biggest factor in making sure I did not feel like I was "just an intern."

3. Local news is first. I have always preferred local news over national and international current events. People care about the stories that affect them at home and in their neighborhoods. I loved reading the Washington Post because they do an amazing job of covering everything. They had in depth coverage of the war and national politics every day without sacrificing local issues.

2. Take risks. I got the chance while I was in Washington to meet blogger/author/nice guy Shel Israel. He has a journalism background and literally wrote the book on blogging, but he mostly works in the business world now. His advice to me was that I should be willing to take risks. I guess I took a risk dumping everything in California at the last minute to go to Washington, but I have not been willing to take risks in other areas, like posting what I think on this blog. Something to keep working on. I also have noticed that the news organizations that are doing well online are the ones that are taking risks instead if just copying what other people have done first.

1. I am a journalist. The most important lesson I learned at the Post is that I am not a programmer, I am a journalist. I enjoy working on the computer and designing Web sites, but that is not what I am really good at. I am a journalist, I love telling stories, and I especially love using different media together to tell stories about people. It is OK that I am not proficient at Flash and CSS. I know the basics, I know what is possible to do online, but it is OK to leave that stuff to the experts and focus on working with them to tell stories. The best online news coverage comes from teams of programmers and reporters working together.

So, where does that leave me? In the words of Rob Curley, I am a news geek, not a news nerd. I love news, I love current events and I love using technology to tell others what is happening around them. I am really excited to see what the future has in store for me. The last year has been great. For the next four months, I will be applying what I have learned as the editor of I graduate in May, and then we see where the winds take me.


Kevin Myrick said...


I think that there should be numbers 11 and 12 added to this list as well:

11) That when working with insane coworkers, it's always best to keep your mouth shut and let things ride...

12) That no matter what age you are, Mom jokes are still funny. Even funnier when you're older, but only because you can say things you can't say or don't know about when you're nine years old.

Great post dude.

Kyle Hansen said...

Ah good times.

But Kevin, I figured that some of the things that happened in Georgetown should stay in Georgetown.