It is summer and that means there are some fresh faces in our newsroom. These are the intern months. College students willing to slog through the Atlanta heat with our reporters just to get some “experience” in a career that I hate to tell them will likely be obsolete in its current form within 15 years. They are impossibly young and eager and earnest. I was once an intern myself. Rewind to 1992 and the NBC affiliate in Yakima, Washington. I had moved to this “armpit” of the state because my boyfriend had his first job there and it was time I put my degree to work. While I love children and grew up in daycare centers because my mother ran one for years, my job as chief diaper changer in the baby room at a center in a posh suburb of Seattle wasn’t going to get me on TV. I knew I needed some reporting experience to go with my Edward R. Murrow College of Communication seal of approval. You know how people have those stories as they begin their careers of someone in a position of authority telling them they will never make it or they are terrible or to give it up? I had the opposite thing happen. It, however, produced the same result. My first stop on the “I have to get a job interview tour of ’92” was a small radio station. I had done radio reporting in college for both the university station KWSU and NPR. My voice had been used for commercials and announcements as well so I felt confident I might land an entry level job there. Five minutes into the interview and the news director said ‘you belong on television.’ He suggested my next stops should be the three television affiliates in town. Bouyed by his encouraging words I jumped over the radio portion of my search and headed to the NBC station, KNDO. It was and probabaly most likely still is, a dump. 22 years ago it was the last place station in the market, which by the way was market 123 out of 200-something at the time. Time and the death of brain cells on my part has erased the particulars of how I convinced them to sign me up as an intern but I can recall vividly how I worked my butt off for three months to convince them to hire me. I logged tape. I cleaned the newsroom and the news cars. I ran errands. Yes, I went out with reporters. All but one of which were around my age. I watched them, filing away tips to use and ones to avoid. I re-voiced their work. I wrote my own. I carried gear and learn to shoot and edit and assign stories and make beat calls and type copy and run teleprompter and navigate newsroom politics. There was no salary, no benefits, no perks. I worked every shift, answered every breaking news call, sat through countless stuffy council meetings, rifled through piles of dusty police files for information, and researched stories for the anchor. I learned. EVERYTHING. Nothing prepared me more for my career than those crappy few months. To this day I use stuff I learned all those years ago. I rely on instincts I honed as a young reporter. I always keep her close to remind me why I chose this business and I why I continue to choose it every contract cycle. To the interns here whose time with us I would guess is winding down I would offer this advice:
Open your eyes and ears and shut your mouth.
Don’t worry about being on TV. Most of the work happens when the cameras are off.
Learn to do everything. You don’t have to master it all just understand and appreciate how ‘the sausage is made.’
Seek out the person in the newsroom whose job you want and interview them.
Take note of things you want to emulate and things you don’t.
Be polite and respectful of everyone. This is a small business. You will likely work with or for these people in the future.
Practice. Take newscast scripts home and read them aloud into a mirror. Take an article in the newspaper and write a TV news story out of it. Fine tune your articulation, your interviewing skills, your writing pace.
Be curious. Read and watch news.
Know what’s going on in the world.
And lastly, stay open to suggestion, criticism, compliments, guidance.
You may face an employer one day who says “you belong on television.”
Oh, by the way, KNDO did hire me as a morning anchor/reporter at the end of said internship. The workload didn’t subside, the paltry paycheck left me working nights and weekends at KFC, and my stepdad gave me a gun because the town was so crime-ridden. Don’t let anyone tell you TV isn’t glamorous.