Story by Hannah Golden, BA ’16
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a six-part series of posts written by Charles Snowden Excellence in Journalism interns. Read the first four posts in the series, “Developing my T-shaped skills at OPB” by Shirley Chan, “How the Baker City Herald helped me escape my bubble” by Forrest Welk, BA ’16, “Eyes wide open: Digging deeper into journalism at the Statesman Journal” by Junnelle Hogen, and “Capturing the community as a photo intern at The Register-Guard” by Adam Eberhardt.
This summer, I held my first full-time reporting position as an intern at the Medford Mail Tribune through the Charles Snowden Program for Excellence in Journalism. For weeks leading up to it, I calmed by nerves by reminding myself that I was a world-aware journalist who stayed on top of current events. I read the news multiple times a day; surely I’d have no problem churning out work.
From my first day on the job, I quickly caught on that, around the newsroom, “Snowden” was synonymous with “not-your-average intern.” My editor didn’t bother assigning me fluff pieces, instead handing me leads to what would become a stack of A1 centerfolds.
But as with any job, there would be hectic days and slow days. I recalled one SOJC professor’s motto: There’s never a slow news day. What he meant was: If you haven’t found something worth covering, you haven’t dug around enough. And it’s true. When all the pressing articles had been sent through for final reads and placement and I found myself suddenly at a lull for stories, I would quickly realize I’d completely gotten out of touch with what was going on in the rest of the newsroom and the world.
While working as a full-time reporter, I had ironically become so enmeshed in my own stories that I wanted nothing to do with news when I got home. I would dive into my own stories and spend hours (metaphorically) swimming facedown. This is great for getting things done. But as a storyteller whose work fits into the larger societal context, I found out it can cripple your perspective.
So instead, I began to use those momentary lulls in my workday to take inventory. I’d go back over old stories, call up old sources, read my coworkers’ stories and see if there was more to it that wasn’t captured in that article. Or I would simply read the news. It sounds obvious, but when you’re under pressure, it’s easy to neglect the wider perspective.
Journalists these days are constantly under pressure to crank out as much material as humanly possible. The best thing, I learned, is not necessarily to ask for the next story right away and dive back in.
The best thing I learned to do was to stop swimming and tread water — to pull my head up and assess the goings-on around me: what my coworkers were working on, what other news outlets were putting out, what the rest of the world was reading. If I could be of help to a colleague, I would, and in the process, I’d gain understanding of other aspects of our community I didn’t normally cover. I’d familiarize myself with the news around the state; more often than not, there was a local angle we could pursue. At the very least, I’d remind myself what good journalism looked like and the kinds of stories I wanted to be telling.
My own motto is that nothing exists in a vacuum. It’s normal after college, where we don’t have many experiences as full-time reporters, to feel the anxiety-producing pressure of constantly being plugged in and up to date. This isn’t realistic, and it doesn’t make you a better reporter.
What’s made me a better reporter isn’t learning to mass-produce content or staying glued to a news ticker on my off hours. It’s learning to be more aware when I’m doing the work. While content creation is important, taking time routinely to be a reader is just as crucial. It’s given perspective to my role in the industry and to the stories I write.
Hannah Golden, BA ’16, recently graduated with degrees in journalism and Spanish. A California native, she has a passion for telling stories that inform the way we live. She currently freelances and contributes to a handful of publications. She’s been published in Ethos, the Daily Emerald, Oregon Voice, The Register-Guard, OPB, The Oregonian, Mail Tribune, Daily Tidings, Eugene Weekly, Rhyme Junkie and the Huffington Post. When Hannah’s not writing, she’s almost always running, dancing, drinking coffee or binge-watching her new favorite show.