The fact that I haven’t had time to do additional posts about my internship at the Janesville Gazette should tell you something. It’s been busy.
The editors at the Gazette believe in a trial by fire or sink/swim method for interns. From the first day I sat down at my desk, they handed me an assignment and I was expected to run with it. I think I can safely say I met those expectations and often went beyond.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about the experience this week. My summer-long project explaining how the city’s water system operates ran last week and it’s been odd to not fill gaps in the day with chats about blending stations and chlorine levels.
But that time has been valuable, for me at least, to come up with some conclusions and/or observations about my experience.
- Being “babied” doesn’t get you anywhere: I’ve learned more about the city and the people who live here by making my own calls, driving through town and talking to people about anything and everything. Sure, I’ve asked for phone numbers or suggestions of sources on many occasions. But ultimately, I came up with the questions, wrote the stories (and even took a photo or two [only one ran]).
- Being a journalist can be a lonely job, if you let it: When I first got here, I spent most nights taking walks by the river or just laying around my apartment alone. Talk about depressing. Luckily I had an amazing group of co-workers that routinely invited me to join them at the local farmers’ market, pork chop cookoff (yes, really) or just watching a baseball game at an apartment. I was reluctant to join them at first; after all, I’d only be here for three months, why bother? Stupid, stupid mistake.
- Every newsroom is struggling somehow: Even the Gazette, whose readers constantly display how much they want their local paper around, had been hit by declining ad revenues. Staff are on 37 1/2 hour weeks (there was talk of creating a “37 1/2 is the new 40” t-shirt at the beginning of the summer) and that often makes for an empty newsroom by Friday afternoon.
- Local news has a certain something: I come from a big town that focuses on big news more often than not – mayors, governors, commissioners, etc. The difference in a place like Janesville is palpable in the newsroom. The reporters and editors there know their readers – and not in the sense of polls or focus groups. They attend church with them, see them on the first day of school, shovel show side by side and mourn the loss of a business each time it closes as a collective group. A mistake is magnified 100x over when it’s made against a neighbor or friend.
That last point especially has changed my perspective on “starting small” in journalism. I used to think it was about getting mistakes out of the way or working the kinks out of your reporting and writing styles. I don’t anymore. Instead, I think starting small is the best way to learn how to really care about a community.
When it really comes down to it, I think journalism has a heart behind all the phones, computers, notepads. If you don’t have some emotion toward the community and people you work for, how can you expect them to care about you as a reporter, or in a larger sense, the local newspaper?
I wouldn’t say that I “know” Janesville or that it “knows” me after three months. But I certainly have a better understanding of why local journalism is important and why papers like the Gazette could weather this economic storm better than larger metro dailies.