When I started my internship at the Daily Hampshire Gazette, a community paper located in Northampton, I thought that my writing was exceptional. Boy was I misled. This is not to say it was bad, but more to say that it definitely needed the infusion of talent from the Gazette arts editors. Working for the paper, I compiled an impressive list of articles that helped me increase my notoriety and show the world what I can offer.
This internship required me to interview local musicians, under-the-radar artists, and classic theater performers for a small town crowd. Among the interviewees were Andrès Wilson and Asia Mei, a local singer/songwriter duo who were new to the area and Orange Television, a born and bred UMass band that won the Cannabis Reform Coalition Battle of the Bands last month. I also interviewed a Florence artist who sought her inspiration from the disfigured and unused metals she found along the road; a political artist who used art to speak out against inequality and the lack of civil rights faced by African-American people and an international exhibiter who showed a gallery that highlighted her use of a horsehair calligraphy brush. A remake of the world-renowned 1966 Broadway show, “Cabaret” also found a spot in the Tyler Manoukian portfolio after catching my eye one day at the paper.
Upon interviewing these animated characters, I would draft up a first draft of my article. Once I did that, I would go through a number of edits before I was ready to submit my first copy to my editor, the now retired, Bonnie Wells. I would do a fact and name checking edit, followed by a grammar edit. After that, I would do two different fluidity edits. Bonnie would always tell me to be concise, “Make sure you have crisp, clear sentences,” she said.
I think this internship more so built on what I have learned in the classroom. Before taking this internship, I had taken Journalism 300 and Journalism 345. Journalism 300 was my foundation class; I got so much out of it. I learned the structure of a news article, I learned the essentials of newsworthiness and I learned what makes a story. I really cannot put into words the value I found from taking that class. It’s certainly recognized as important, being a junior year writing requirement, but whether journo majors actually feel that way can sometimes be John Kerry esque. Journalism 345 taught the ethics of media, and that is another invaluable experience in the classroom that can prepare a journo major for other internships as well as the real world. I also took Journalism as Conversation this semester. While I had my experience in news writing and reporting, I knew little to nothing about social media, and how it relates back to journalism. Social media, through outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Digg and others creates an electronic network source that can be a news source for anyone. For most people, Twitter is that resource. Facebook, Zuckerberg’s brainchild, is integrating with 90 percent of the web right now – that tells you something about its value. I think taking the classes the way I did prepared me for this internship. I was extremely lucky to be able to do so in the order I did.
I cannot put in to words how much this internship helped me out. Not only did I get incredibly useful feedback on my writing style and organization, but also I learned how to write a lot better. Before coming to the Gazette, I wrote for the Collegian, and I never got useful feedback on articles I wrote. They encourage bad habits there by only editing for grammar and nothing beneficial towards your writing style. At the Gazette, Bonnie was never afraid to call me out on something I wrote or ask the five ‘W’s’ on certain sentences. That meticulous effort is what made me a better writer. It’s safe to say that my writing style improved. I became clearer and wrote with more brevity. I was conscious of word choice and cut out extra words. News stories should be as short and informative as possible, so I am glad that I was able to work on that. Another thing that got better was my organization. The way a reporter organizes his or her writing is essential to the audience. It makes or breaks attention. I came in to the Gazette with a very poor understanding of organization of a story and with too much of a descriptive writing style. Bonnie was the best editor to learn under that I could have ever asked for. Her teaching and careful touch made everything I did so much better; she always made me a more accomplished writer just by going through an article line-by-line with me. I was probably the luckiest intern at the Gazette since the paper started accepting interns. I had the pleasure of working with both Bonnie Wells and Kathy Mellen. The experience from working under two different editors is priceless. I got a firsthand look at two different ways of writing and editing. That is something that nobody else can say. Though it is hard to switch editors with three weeks left at the job, getting the experience and a look at how each person does their job is so much more valuable.
I think this experience made me think about what kind of career path I want to follow. Before being an Arts writer at the Gazette, I was an Arts writer at the Collegian. Nothing at the Collegian wowed me, the experience was not a good one and I did not feel like writing in Arts was my thing. But what I realized as a writer at the Gazette was that Arts is everything. Nothing beats writing in Arts. Seriously, as a reporter, I learned about new acts, new musicians and local artists. Being able to learn while doing something you love is awesome. I learned to love Arts through writing at the Gazette and learning about a performer’s history – how did he or she form their band, how they write music and why they like performing in front of a crowd so much. As a reporter in Arts, you learn things about people you would never learn from writing in any other area. This is where the truth comes out; this is where you hear their story. Then comes the best part, you get to tell the world.
From this experience, I realized that a career in Arts would be amazing. A career in radio would work for me, too. I work for the radio station; I have my own show. Nothing beats broadcasting to the community. Spreading a message for the good of an audience is exhilarating. I can also take what I learned from writing arts to make my presentation as a radio personality more listenable. Articulating thoughts has gotten a lot easier for me and I expect it to get even more translucent. I would be happy with a career in Arts – online or print, the radio, or in any type of social media.
I really do not think I faced any kind of ethical dilemma while on the job. There was a time where I had to decide on a fact without checking it because I had already hit my deadline, though. There was a time when I had to decide if the singer/songwriter duo that I mentioned above moved to Northampton two and a half years ago or some other number based on what they told me. I was pressed by Bonnie for the deadline, so I had to make a decision on the fly. I had to make a judgment call, I didn’t verify the information and when I emailed the contact to let her know about the article, she had already read it and told me that she had been living in Northampton for only four months, not two and a half years. I felt terrible about the way I handled the situation, mostly because I knew that I was not upholding my responsibility of being a journalist. It made me look bad and my credibility took a bit of a hit. I resolved the situation by explaining to her my error, and I told my editor about it. Bonnie was a little upset but ultimately told me that I needed to do a better job checking my facts. That said I put an emphasis on fact checking as I mentioned above by doing an edit solely for that process.
I think for me, the next step in my career planning will be to keep doing what I am doing – that is, staying involved on campus, writing for my fraternity, trying to write for the school of social and behavioral sciences, and maybe trying to find a magazine to write for. I most definitely want to do another internship and I think I can over the summer. The Lowell Sun, The Phoenix or Entercom Radio could be possible employers. For now, I will need to wait and see. I won’t stop doing internships because you can never have enough internship opportunities. I am going to be a junior so it is getting down to the wire. I will continue to do internships to expand my career interests and also my career opportunities.
To build on my coursework, I will be taking History of American Journalism next semester to learn more about the origins of journalism and how I can utilize the process of journalism to my advantage. I will also be taking Introduction to Multimedia Journalism, which will help me become more literate in online and social media journalism. I think that this class will help me expand on past video projects, interaction with Twitter and understanding of other similar sites. I think that I will be able to build my skills as a journalist in the online capacity through this course in connection with the Conversation class I took this semester. I will also be taking Media History and Communication Policy, which will give me a more rounded understanding of the media and its origins. All of these classes will build on what I already know and I think they will complement each other nicely. History of Journalism and Media History are almost too perfect for each other and the Multimedia class will prove to be what I needed after taking the Conversation class this semester.
In summary, this internship was the best thing I could have ever done. The editors at the Gazette gave me something that I can never repay them for – a solid foundation of writing in the ‘real world.’ I wouldn’t trade this for anything and I highly recommend anyone who is interested in this field to not only hit the papers (or online news source) as early as possible. It will give you a leg up on the competition and make you a better, more complete journalist when you’re done.