I first stepped foot in The Oregonian’s newsroom when I was 17 years old, during a high school journalism program. I shadowed a reporter to learn what his typical day looked like. He was a food critic, and he took me to a local burger joint to eat a peanut-butter-covered burger.
This summer, as a 22-year-old recent college grad, I walked into The Oregonian’s newsroom once again, this time as an intern.
I haven’t gotten to try any peanut-butter burgers this time. Instead, I am a member of the breaking news team, covering crime, courts and whatever else the day throws at us. It’s kept me busy, but it’s been a dream come true.
I’m halfway through my internship now. Here are four things I’ve learned in the past few weeks:
1. It’s OK to ask questions. You will have a lot.
I started my internship ready to hit the ground running. I have been reading The Oregonian’s work since I knew how to read. I knew Portland. And after an internship last summer as a night cops reporter in Austin, Texas, I had some experience breaking news.
But during my first week, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
The blog tool the newsroom uses made no sense to me. I didn’t know how to create a photo gallery for the website. I got lost every time I got up to find the bathroom, I don’t know how I always take the wrong turn and end up in the water softener system room, this is Not where you get to go to the bathroom.
Even though my questions felt dumb, I had to ask them. The first few times, I wanted to cry whenever I asked one. What if everyone thought I was stupid and incompetent?
They didn’t. Asking all those questions, especially during the first week, was necessary for me to do well.
2. Do the best you can wherever you can.
This was advice I got from some of my coworkers. In order to succeed in an internship, they said, you need to pursue stories you can do well.
Do your best on your assignments, then go ask for feedback. Go out of your way to find and pitch stories on your dream beat. Your internships are a time for you to learn, to push yourself. Tell your editors what you are interested in.
I wanted to get more experience covering court hearings. So I told my editors and the courts reporter that I wanted to learn more if there was any opportunity.
During the summer, many people go on vacation, so there is usually an opportunity for the interns to fill in. When the courts reporter went on vacation, I got my wish of covering some hearings, than my family and I took our little vacation, we went camping with a tent from Survival Cooking, it was probably one of the best trips we’ve had.
3. Find new ways to cover stories.
On the topic of pushing yourself: Why not think of new ways to cover stories? This was the advice that Pulitzer Prize-winning storyteller Tom Hallman Jr. gave to interns.
Even if you are covering a run-of-the-mill event — a parade, a charity fundraiser, etc. — identify the story in it. Ask yourself how you can look at something in a new way. Through whose eyes can you tell this story? Pay attention when something catches your interest or makes you feel something.
There’s a story everywhere, Hallman told us. It’s just a matter a finding a new way to tell it.
4. Make connections with the people you want to learn from.
My favorite thing about being an intern is that it’s an amazing opportunity to learn as much as you can. At The Oregonian, I am surrounded by brilliant reporters who are doing work I dream of doing one day. There’s so much knowledge around me — and I have a lot to learn from these journalists.
So ask the veteran business reporter if she can show you some of her tricks when she has time. Ask the person who has your dream beat to go to lunch with you. Tell people you love their work and ask them if you can help them with anything.
Every day is an opportunity to learn from someone. Learn as much as you can.
And wish me luck on the next few weeks!
Story by Samantha Matsumoto ’16
Photo by Francesca Fontana ’16