This has been the busiest, most stressful, and most rewarding Winter Term of my Oberlin career. My reporting internship at The Chronicle has far exceeded my expectations. Prior to beginning the internship, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't really enjoy news writing. While I like keeping up with current events, I prefer writing long-form narratives and feature pieces, i.e. travel writing, food writing, and humorous prose. The internship has really opened my eyes to the possibility that news writing would be an enjoyable job for me, even if it was just for part of my career.
On my first day, I drove to the office in Elyria and was greeted by a woman who worked in Human Resources. She gave me an employee handbook and made me sign some papers saying I understood its contents. Then she escorted me upstairs into the newsroom...
The newsroom is comprised of lots of desks with computers, some cubicles, and newspapers everywhere. There was hardly anyone there when I got there at 11am--turns out people trickle in throughout the day and most of the reporters are there doing their story writing in the evenings.
There is hardly ever silence in the newsroom because there is a radio playing the police scanners of the cities around the area throughout the office. Lately, all you really hear is, "78-year-old white male slipped on the ice outside of Midway Mall," or "38-year-old woman locked out of her house in Lorain," or "head-on collision on 58, cars slid on the ice into one another. No one is injured." In short, a lot of the "big news" we get to hear during January over the police scanner is car crashes and old people slipping on the ice. You start to sort of ignore the scanner because it's constantly playing. One day, we heard, "Man shot himself in the chest with a nail gun" and everyone looked up from their computers. I heard one reporter say, "Whoa, that's awesome!" and a colleague respond with "You are sick for saying that is awesome." It was pretty amusing--but of course disturbing that someone shot himself with a nail gun.
Anyways, when I first went to the newsroom I was introduced to my primary boss, Julie Wallace. Julie is the managing editor for the newspaper. She showed me the desk I would be using for the next few weeks, which I'm guessing from the high school basketball schedules and pictures of athletes, belongs to a sports writer that works at night. I sat down and turned on my computer, and within moments Julie already had an assignment for me. She gave me a sticky note with a phone number on it. "Here, call this guy--he's opening a new business in Elyria and we want to have a brief write-up about it. Find out what his business is all about. Here's an example."
I was SO nervous to make my first phone call as a "real reporter." Would I sound like a stupid college kid? Would I remember to ask all of the essential questions? What if they refused to speak to me? What if as soon as they picked up the phone I forgot all the English I was ever taught? Now, calling someone and saying, "Hi, this is Alicia Smith from The Chronicle. I wanted to as you a few questions about an article I'm writing about __________" is so routine I barely have to think about it.
Since my first day, I've written several articles that have been printed in the newspaper. The most recent article I wrote was about the progress that is being made on the East College Street project. The construction project is being pursued by three Oberlin grads, and will have condos, businesses, shops, restaurants, offices--and it's all sustainable and environmentally friendly. I got to go to the site with one of the paper's photographers and interview the alums, and they gave us a tour of the construction project. It was cool being on "the inside" of a project most people haven't gotten to see yet.
For another story, I interviewed Oberlin College dance instructor Adenike Sharpley about the trip she is currently on in West Africa for Winter Term. I also wrote one about a man who drew a cartoon for charity of Barack Obama. He plans to have it signed by Obama when he speaks here today and auction off the drawing. Then he will donate the proceeds to the Red Cross for victims in Haiti. Another article I wrote was about a winter fun festival that recently happened in Vermillion. A brief article I did discussed free smoke detectors that are being distributed to Elyria residents.
Once, I was sent out in the snow, driving around lost for about three hours in Elyria looking for a particular bus stop to interview bus riders about how the recent cuts to the Lorain County Transit routes will affect their lives. Some people refused to talk to me, others were thrilled to get to express their angry opinions in the paper. It was exhausting and frustrating, but worth it in the end. When I saw a quote featured in the article that I had retrieved and a note at the end of the front-page article acknowledging my contribution, I felt really accomplished.
Being a reporter is hard, and requires a lot of research, aggressiveness, patience, and willingness to talk to anyone and ask them anything. I'm naturally a shy person, but this has forced me to grow out of that--something I needed to do in order to be a successful journalist. It's been hard, but the feeling I get when I see my name as the byline of an article is incredibly gratifying.